No. 1 Columbia softball stumbles in regional final

Columbia pitcher Erin Anderson, left, and infielder Kayli Kvistad nearly collide as Kvistad makes a catch for an out against Oakleaf during the Class 6A regional semifinals on April 29 in Lake City.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer/FILE
Published: Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 12:10 a.m.

LAKE CITY — This time, there would be no last at-bat home runs to win it or seventh-inning rallies when all seemed hopeless.

Columbia's incredible run in softball spanning over two seasons ended Saturday night at home in the Region 1-6A final.

Jacksonville Creekside sophomore Hannah Dekle, who transferred after playing junior varsity softball at Lafayette, hit a two-run homer to highlight a three-run sixth, and senior Sami Hays posted her fourth straight shutout in the Knights' 3-0 win over Class 6A No. 1 Columbia.

Hays allowed just three hits, all singles, and got out of jams in the second and fifth innings as Creekside, which lost in the 5A state finals a year ago to Lake Wales, will play in the 6A semifinals on Wednesday in Vero Beach.

“When you get to this level, the regional finals, these are the two best teams in the region,” said Columbia coach Jimmy Williams, whose team, ranked No. 1 for all-classes by Miracle Sports, ended its season 28-2. “They got some clutch hits and we didn't. I think they will go and win it. Late in games we have had a lot of last-inning heroics. We had a couple of opportunities. We hit the ball hard right to them. They are a quality team.

“It's a tough loss, the toughest loss we have had in about three years. I wish them well. I think they have some good ballplayers and came in and did what they had to do. We can't win ball games with zeros.”

Scoreless through five innings, Creekside (21-5), which came up empty in the fifth after two hits, didn't in the sixth. With two outs, the Knights reeled off five straight hits, leading with Ashley Chambers' double, who scored after Jennifer Miller followed with a single to right.

Then Dekle, the team's leading home run hitter, crushed an Erin Anderson pitch over the left-center fence, and the Knights had a commanding 3-0 lead. Anderson (20-2) was pulled after the homer and replaced with Ashley Shoup.

The Tigers had no answer in the sixth and seventh innings against Hays, who gave up two walks but no hits.

“It feels amazing. I am extremely proud of every one of these girls on this team,” said Creekside coach Sabrina Hartsell. “We knew coming in this game this was going to be an extremely tough team. They are very talented.

“We haven't seen the best of (Hays) yet. She is just now peaking. She has been rock solid and gotten stronger each time she has taken the mound.”

In her last seven starts, Hays has given up just one earned run.

The right-hander was able to avert Columbia's best scoring threat in the second, when Hollianne Dohrn and Tatum Morgan opened with back-to-back singles. Brandy Morgan then hit a liner at Hays, who knocked it down and threw out Dohrn at third. She then closed the inning with a strikeout and groundout.

In the fifth, Brittany Morgan walked with one out and Lacey King reached on an error, giving the Tigers runners on first and second. Kayli Kvistad then hit into a force out at second, and sister Kamdyn Kvistad flied out to right.

“I feel like we have set the standard really high for Columbia softball,” said senior center fielder Brandy Morgan, who has signed with USF. “I wouldn't want to play with any other group of girls. Tonight just wasn't our night, and sometimes it works out like that.

“But I'm glad I could end my season with these girls. I felt we should have beaten them, but it was just one of those nights where our hitting wasn't together.”

In two years, Columbia had won 58 of 62 games, including 31 straight.

“We are a big-hit team, that is how we live and die,” Williams said. “We didn't get that one spark the whole game. We won so many lately we thought we had another one in us. I told them how I appreciate every one of them. We lost 2-0 and 3-0 games, but we are still one of the best teams in the state.

“This is a great group of people. I couldn't ask for better chemistry. They will definitely be in my heart for a long time.”

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