Late-game heroics lift Columbia past Oakleaf

Columbia's Erin Anderson celebrates with teammates and fans after hitting the game-winning RBIs against Oakleaf during the Regional 1-6A semifinals on Tuesday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 11:28 p.m.

LAKE CITY — The script seems so familiar — the Class 6A, No. 1 Columbia Tigers softball team down to their final few outs and trailing.

A week ago it was for the District 2 title. On Tuesday night, it was the Region 1 semifinals.

Both times the Tigers celebrated at the end, and Orange Park Oakleaf was left bewildered as to what had happened.

Erin Anderson, known for her pitching, has been swinging a pretty potent bat lately and her two-run single to left in the bottom of the seventh inning lifted Columbia to a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Knights.

But the real hero for the Tigers (28-1) was sophomore Tatum Morgan, the only player who had two hits in a game that totaled eight. It was her single to open the seventh for Columbia, after fouling off five pitches on a 1-2 count, that gave the Tigers hope.

“I went up wanting to hit the ball solid,” Morgan said. “A base hit was all I was looking for. It was very important for me to get on. We were down 2-1 and that pitcher was very good. This is just amazing.”

Down 2-1 after two errors in the top of the seventh led to an Oakleaf run, after Tatum Morgan's single, the Knights pulled starting freshman pitcher Kelsey Sweat and replaced her with Bri Surrento.

Brandy Morgan, Tatum's older sister, reached base on an infield error. A wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third with no outs. After a groundout, Anderson, who nearly homered in the fifth, hit a single to the left-center gap and the Morgan sisters reached home to set off a wild celebration.

“I work on pitching and hitting all the time,” said Anderson, a junior, who has committed to Flagler College. “I haven't been hitting as much as I have been pitching. The other pitcher (Surrento) was faster and a little wilder. We felt we could hit her better.

“We just never give up. We really don't want it to end, we want to continue like last year. When I hit it over the shortstop's head, I knew it would score at least one run.”

Columbia, the defending state 6A champion and ranked No. 1 for all-classifications by Miracle Sports, advances to play Jacksonville Creekside, which beat St. Augustine 1-0. Creekside was state runner-up in 5A in 2013.

“I never give up on our team,” said Columbia third baseman Kayli Kvistad, a UF signee, who hit a dramatic three-run homer in the seventh with two outs and two strikes in a 4-2 win over Oakleaf in the District 2 final. “We always pull through in the last minute. I wouldn't want to play for any other team. I am so thankful we got this victory.

“Our fans are awesome. We pretty much had the whole town here supporting us.”

The Tigers have won their last five meetings against the Knights (17-12).

“To beat a team four times in a season is hard to do, and being down to them, is even harder,” said Columbia catcher Hollianne Dohrn, who has signed with Flagler College. “We never give up. Erin is by far my favorite pitcher to work with. She is really a clutch player.”

Down 1-0 after giving up a run in top of the fifth, the Tigers answered back in the bottom frame as Brandy Morgan doubled, moved to third on Lauren Eaker's sacrifice bunt and scored on Anderson's deep blast to left that tied it at 1-1.

Columbia opened the sixth with a walk and Kayli Kvistad getting hit by a pitch, putting two runners on with no outs. A sacrifice bunt by Kamdyn Kvistad, Kayli's freshman sister, put runners at second and third with one out. But a botched suicide squeeze play resulted in a pop-up and Oakleaf turned it into a double play.

Despite that wasted opportunity, despite the errors in the top of seventh, Columbia found a way once again to find victory.

“They just don't quit on each other,” said Columbia coach Jimmy Williams. “It is very hard to beat someone five straight times. We know each other so well, so the scores are going to be close.

“Tatum had the best at-bat I've seen in coaching. She kept fouling them off and fouling them off. Her at-bat gave us life. Erin almost hit one out tonight. I told her we need to put you back in lineup because we don't have enough line drive hits.

“Erin has been carrying a lot of weight for us lately.”

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