MOUNT OLIVE — It’s harder to stay on the mountaintop than to climb up the mountain again, but the Wayne Christian softball team had no issues returning to the mountaintop for a second time.
After defeating Freedom Christian Academy 9-8 in game one of the N.C. Independent Athletic Association 2A state championship series, the Eagles held off the Patriots 6-5 in game two to win their second straight state title Saturday afternoon at the University of Mount Olive.
“It’s like your childhood dream. Like you hear everybody talking about it, and so to win it once is a privilege, but to win it back-to-back is just the definition of speechless,” said senior Hayli Verme, who graduated from high school earlier in the day.
“It’s just a crazy feeling.”
The Eagles flew out of the gate to start the game.
With one out on the board in the top of the first inning, Katie King drew a walk and stole second and third base.
Then with Ella Fox in the batter’s box, King scored off a Freedom Christian error to score the game’s first run.
Maddy Sutton hit an RBI double to make it a 2-0 ballgame, and during the ensuing at-bat, Sutton scored a run off another Patriots’ error to increase the Eagles’ lead to 3-0.
However, the Patriots responded in the bottom of the inning. They scored two runs to cut the Eagles’ lead down to 3-2 heading into the second inning.
“I knew that three runs was not going to be enough,” said Wayne Christian head softball coach Tommy Fox.
The second, third and fourth innings turned into to pitcher’s duel, with seventh-grader Riley Sutton keeping the Patriots off the board until the Eagles’ offense woke up again in the top of the fifth inning.
Sutton said she was nervous pitching in such a big game, but she trusted her coaches and the defense behind her to help her through the game.
“It’s crazy coming as a seventh grader to pitch varsity,” said Sutton. “To play on such a great team with such good people, I really feel like it was an honor to be out there.”
King leadoff the top of the fifth with a walk. With Ella Fox up to bat, King stole second, while Fox hit an RBI single to give the Eagles a 4-2 lead.
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“Every play is a new chance, and we knew it wasn’t over until it’s finished, and our fans were great,” said senior Lilly Britt, who also graduated earlier in the day. “We built a family here, and I think this team is a family.”
The Eagles did not score any runs in the sixth inning, but the Patriots scored a run to make it a 4-3 ballgame heading into the seventh inning.
After a groundout to start the inning, Fox got a hit a reached second base due to a Patriots player interfering with the baseline.
Sutton then hit an RBI single to score Fox, while two batters later, Millie Fox also hit an RBI single to give the Eagles a 6-3 lead.
“Millie got a big hit there with two outs, which ended up being the game-winning run,” said coach Fox. “I had two seventh graders that just battled and didn’t play like seventh graders.
“We’ve got some really good softball players.”
Holding onto a three-run lead and needing three more outs to win a state title, Sutton got herself in a jam in the bottom of the seventh when Patriots scored two runs to cut the Eagles’ lead down to 6-5.
With the game-winning run at the plate and a runner on second base, Sutton showed no fear and struck out Madi Capps to clinch the Eagles’ second state title in a row.
“I cried when Hayli tagged that girl out. I was so emotional. I don’t know why, but it was so awesome,” said Sutton. “I just pushed through it because I knew that if we lost. It wouldn’t have been just my fault. We play the game as a team, and if we win together, we win together, but we also lose together.”
Verme and Britt said to end their high school careers as two-time state champions while graduating the same day is beyond a dream come true.
“We lost two great players last year, and I think everybody stepped up and did their jobs,” said Verme. “We could not have done it without everybody. Knowing that we have the team there and support behind us is everything you need.”
While the Eagles are losing Verme and Britt, with plenty of talent coming back, the Eagles will be looking to climb the mountain for a third time next season.
“It’ll be exciting and fun. I’m sure we’ll have a target on our back all of the time, but that makes it fun, and our kids are ready for it,” said Fox.