Celebratory ice bath and another chapter written in a magical season, Hoggard softball coach Collen St. Ledger couldn’t help but thank her team’s youth.
The Vikings started seven underclassmen in Game 2 of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East Regional Final series Thursday, and those young Vikings could have easily been shell-shocked after Heritage took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first.
Instead, Hoggard refused to give up, and the Vikings rallied. No. 4 Hoggard (19-7) scored once in the third, twice in the seventh and walked-off in the bottom of the eighth with a 4-3 victory over No. 2 Heritage (19-4) to clinch its first state championship appearance since 2001.
“I don’t think they really understand what’s going on right now,” St. Ledger said. “Their handling business the way they should handle business. I told them from day one, it’s fun to continue playing, and school goes by a lot faster when softball is still going on.”
Heritage ends the season at 19-4.
“I just told the girls they had an amazing season,” Huskies coach Jessica Furlough said. “We were one of the four teams at the end and had a great chance to make the state championship.”
Hoggard entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 3-1, but freshman Allie Royal started the inning with a single to right field and junior Jaclyn Jordan reached base on an error. Anna Taylor came on to run for Jordan, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch with two outs.
That set the stage for sophomore Amber Small, who was down to her last strike when the lefty slapped a single into left field that scored both runners and tied the game at 3-3.
After a clean eighth inning in the field, Hoggard began its final breakthrough with a one-out double by sophomore Skyler Walker. Bella Colbert, another sophomore, followed that with a single to right field.
Heritage then elected to intentionally walk Royal. With the bases loaded and one out, Jordan hit a hard grounder that forced a diving stop by Heritage third baseman Lindsey Dorn, but the throw home was too late and Walker scored to end the game.
None of those late heroics would have been possible without senior Jesse Mathis, who pitched all eight innings and didn’t give up a run over the final seven. She was able to strike out eight Heritage batters and seemingly got stronger as the game wore on.
“She (Jesse Mathis) was great, but I think we also made some mistakes and chased some pitches we shouldn’t have swung at,” Furlough said. “It was nice to see us come out aggressive after losing 5-0 in the first game, but then we kind of went back to what we were doing that got us in trouble.”
Heritage scored its three runs in the top of the first thanks to two errors and three base hits. Kennedy Priest scored on an error, while Ashley Gontram and Cydney Johnson crossed home on an RBI double by Karlee Harrington.
The Vikings got their first run of the game in the third thanks to the speed of Icess Tresvik. The sophomore reached base on an error and took second base on the same miscue. She stole third, and an errant throw by the catcher allowed Tresvik to jog home. That was the last bit of meaningful offense until Hoggard’s rally in the seventh.
Hoggard will head west next weekend looking for the school’s first state championship in any team sport since the football team won the 4A title in 2007. The Vikings await the winner of the West Regional Final Series, which is tied 1-1 between Mooresville and South Caldwell.
The site of next weekend’s state championship is still to be determined, with UNC-Greensboro or N.C. State serving as the two options.