PREP SOFTBALL

How sweet it is

East Clarendon squad relishes come-from-behind win - and doing it against Dixie

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Gracen Watts and Mikayla Anderson made up the starting left side of the infield for the 2013 East Clarendon High School softball team that won the program's first ever 1A state title. Watts was the seventh-grade shortstop and Anderson the eighth-grade third baseman.

It was the first year on the varsity for both of them and thoughts of more state championships to come were in their minds. Trips to the state championship series did come the Lady Wolverines' way in '14 and '16. Both ended in losses to Dixie, the school they beat for the title.

So when EC won its second state title on Wednesday - again, against Dixie - it was sweet.

"I'm still on Cloud 9," said Watts, the junior shortstop whose team rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in Turbeville, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh to secure the title. "I know all of the hard work that was put in for us to get to this point. And to win it the way we did made it fun."

East Clarendon looked as though it would be playing a deciding Game 3 when Bailey Evans hit a grounder to Dixie second baseman Sommer Burton with two outs and a runner on base. However, Burton's throw sailed over the head of first baseman Mackenzie Freeman, allowing Evans to reach. Elly Floyd and Caitlin Timmons followed with run-scoring singles to give the Lady Wolverines a sweep.

"My first words when she hit the ball was 'Hustle, Bailey,'" Anderson, a senior first baseman, said of the momentum-changing error. "When she (Burton) threw the ball away my heart just dropped. The tension was so high in our dugout."

EC head coach Lisa Ard admits the way the victory came about was high drama.

"I guess you can say it was heart-stopping," said Ard, who guided the East Clarendon to a 22-5 record. "To be down to the final out and have (Evans) reach on an error and then get two hits to win the ball game is something.

"And to be able to beat Dixie two (games) times in a row made it even better."

Dixie swept the Lady Wolverines last season, winning the championship in Turbeville.

"We couldn't let them get three in a row," Watts said. "To be able to win it in front of our fans was great."

That was set up by the EC pulling off a 3-1 victory over Dixie on Monday in Due West. Anderson said East Clarendon went to some extreme measures in coming up with the road victory.

"We changed the route we took to get there and we didn't eat at the normal place we eat at," Anderson said. "You can say we're pretty superstitious.

"(Winning the opener on the road) made a whole lot of difference for us," she added. "It's a long ride home (172 miles) after losing a game."

Timmons, who is a junior, has been on the varsity since she was in the eighth grade. That means she had never beaten Dixie before.

"You can say it was sweet revenge," said Timmons, EC's left fielder. "Dixie's a really good team, but we're a really good team too. For whatever reason, it was hard for us against them.

"I think this team wanted it more this year than the others. This team gave an all-out effort at all times."

Watts said she wasn't sure if the Lady Wolverines had what it needed at the beginning of the season to bring the title back to Turbeville. EC was breaking in a new pitcher in Marleigh Floyd and got off to a slow start.

"This was the first year that Marleigh was our go-to pitcher," Ard said. "She never got rattled throughout the year. She kept battling and she improved as the season went on."

While Watts cherishes the '13 title, she looks at this one differently.

"It was great to be a seventh-grader and get the opportunity to win a state championship," she said. "There were players on that team who took me under their wings and made me part of the team.

"To do it with this group of girls that I go to school with every day is special. It means a lot to be able to do it with them."