MONTGOMERY – Having survived a 17-hour gauntlet of pressure-packed softball, Rehobeth came up just short of the Class 5A softball state championship on Saturday at Lagoon Park.
Hayden completed a four-game sweep of the eight-team tournament when it defeated the Rebels 5-0 behind eighth grader Miah Simmons’ three-hitter.
It was the Wildcats’ second state championship, which it first won in 2013. The runner-up finish was the Rebels’ best.
“We finished third last year and second this year,” proud Rehobeth coach Summer Chandler said. “That’s the best we’ve ever done.”
Rehobeth (40-13) lost early Friday morning after their game against John Carroll Catholic was suspended by rain and lightning on Thursday night. The Rebels returned to Lagoon Park at 8 a.m. Friday and stayed at the park through victories over Shelby County, Mortimer Jordan and, again, John Carroll in the semifinals.
The Rebels lost a big early lead, waited out another lightning delay and exploded for six runs in the sixth inning late Friday in a 14-7 victory over John Carroll that got them into the title game.
“We finished up at 11:30,” Chandler said.
After the big inning, the Rebels wanted to keep playing.
“Some of the girls were like, ‘Can we play the championship today?’” Chandler laughed. “I said we can’t start a game after 12. They fought hard. I’m proud of them, for sure.”
Saturday’s title game was an uphill climb for the Rebels. Top-ranked Hayden (45-5) took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning. Katelyn Belding and Olivia Armstrong opened the inning with consecutive singles. A walk loaded the bases with nobody out. The Wildcats scored first on Hannah Cox’s groundout. After another walk loaded the bases again, Taylor Yeager’s groundout brought in the second run.
Rehobeth typically prides itself on its defense, but Hayden’s defense was championship quality. Other than a throwing error in the Rehobeth third, the Wildcats made every routine play and several eye-popping ones. Several caught foul balls near the fences. Left fielder Cox made a catch on a sinking line drive in left field and doubled off a runner that ended the sixth inning. The game ended when Hayden turned a 5-4-3 double play.
“They were really good. We always pride ourselves on good defense, but they were the better defensive team today, for sure,” Chandler said.
Simmons only struck out two Rebels. Blake Gibson led off Rehobeth’s fourth inning with a single to center for its first hit. Jenna Hixson led off the fifth with an infield single and Sydney Pybus started the seventh with a single to left.
Rehobeth starter Stephanie Schoonover was excellent again. The junior, a Kentucky commitment, gave up seven hits, two walks and hit a batter. She struck out three. That was a day after she dominated in the circle.
“Oh, my gosh. She pitched everything,” Chandler said. “She didn’t pitch four innings yesterday, but pitched everything before. She kept throwing. I mean, you couldn’t take the ball away from her.
“In fact, the last game, Claire Watson took four or five innings off her and did a nice job. But when John Carroll came back, Stephanie said, ‘Can I go in?’ I said, ‘Yeah, go.’ So Stephanie went out behind the field and pitched two or three minutes outside to get ready. She sprinted in. The parents were like, ‘She’s coming, she’s coming.’ She really fought. I mean, they all fought. They all hit. They all played defense – except for today.”
Schoonover, Pybus and Makayla Peters made the all-tournament team for Rehobeth. The tournament MVP was Hayden’s Lindsey Smith, who went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer in the seventh inning for the Wildcats.
“We had a lot of young players that stepped up,” Chandler said. “We’ll miss our three seniors – Blake, Chasilyn (Sawyers) and Sydney.”