Piper Young didn’t think it was gone.
But the Baldwin senior watched the softball fly farther and farther, until suddenly she couldn’t see it anymore. And then…
“I honestly thought it was going to be a foul ball,” she said. “Halfway between first and second, I realized it, and I just blew up.”
Just over the top of the fence. Off the roof of the golf cart. Nothing but victory.
Young’s go-ahead home run in a three-run fourth inning and clutch pitching in the final inning helped the magical season roll on for Baldwin, holding off a stubborn Keystone Heights 3-2 in Thursday night’s Florida High School Athletic Association Region 1-3A softball final before an exuberant home crowd.
The fireworks. The horn blasts. The fans ringing the field, and racing onto that field once shortstop Olivia Hartung caught the final out.
“It’s amazing,” Baldwin softball coach Jennifer Shields said. “I really can’t even describe it.”
Baldwin (26-2), ranked first in Region 1-3A, advances to its first-ever FHSAA state semifinal on Wednesday night at Legends Way Ball Fields in Clermont. They’ll learn their opponent once the FHSAA re-seeds the semifinalists based on the ranking system.
In her final home game, Young — who pitched her first game for the team as a sixth-grader in 2016 — delivered for Baldwin. She went the distance in the circle, allowing six hits, and pushed the hosts in front with her fourth inning two-run shot to left that dipped over the fence and inside the foul pole. Baldwin tacked on an insurance run shortly afterward, when a throwing error off Riley Page’s sacrifice bunt attempt scored Chloe Stepherson.
Without Young’s effort, this regional final may have had a different winner. Keystone (19-10) took the lead in the first on Alaina Kinsal’s home run to nearly the identical location, and starting pitcher Madi Mitzel escaped a pair of jams in the early innings.
Keystone kept fighting. Delia Johnson, playing first base, cut the Baldwin lead to one with a solo homer in the sixth, and Keystone threatened again in the seventh when Kinsal singled to right and Kiley Channell reached on an error.
But Young retired Abbie Roach on a fly out to center, and Kinley Carlton popped up to short to cue the celebrations in Baldwin.
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Middleburg is marching on.
Riding the arm of Mallory Forrester once again, the Broncos outlasted Tallahassee Lincoln 2-1 in a 13-inning epic to advance to the first FHSAA final four in the softball program’s history.
Freshman Kaelyn Hagan supplied the winning hit in the 13th, scoring Maisy Campbell after an error, to defeat host Lincoln (17-9) in a pitchers’ duel to remember.
“We knew it was going to be a fight and that was a dogfight of a game,” Lincoln head coach Terese Waltman said.
Middleburg’s Forrester pitched all 13 innings with 19 strikeouts and five hits allowed, while Lincoln’s Gwen McGinnis also went the distance with 23 strikeouts. The Broncos’ ace ended the game with 11 consecutive outs, the last a fly out to Carly Johnson in deep center to conclude the night.
The Broncos took a fourth-inning lead on Alyssa Prather’s RBI single, but Alli Ryan tied the game in the sixth with a single to score McGinnis for top-seeded Lincoln.
Middleburg (18-11) will play Thursday in Clermont against a state semifinal opponent to be determined.
The Times-Union and Tallahassee Democrat