Members of the Hamilton High School fast-pitch softball team pose for a picture with the championship trophy Saturday after beating Myrtle 11-2 in Game 3 of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 1A State title series at Mississippi State’s Nusz Park. Photo by: Scott Walters/Dispatch Staff Buy this photo.
May 12, 2018 11:13:27 PM
STARKVILLE -- In arguably the biggest moment of Game 3 of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 1A fast-pitch softball state championship on Saturday, Hamilton High School pitcher Anna Claire Stahl knew the importance of her battle with Megan Lowery.
Hamilton center fielder Caylin Ferraro looked on from her position knowing what was going to happen.
"I just knew Anna Claire was going to get the out," Ferraro said. "That's how she pitches. The bigger the moment, the better she pitches. That was the biggest out of the game. We had to have it."
Myrtle had closed within four runs. The Lady Hawks had two runners in scoring position. Lowery, the team's leadoff hitter, had spent most of the last three days at Mississippi State's Nusz Park running the bases.
This time she didn't get that chance.
Stahl retired Lowery on a called third strike to set the stage for Hamilton to score five runs in the seventh inning en route to an 11-2 victory in the deciding game of the best-of-three series.
"If (Lowery) got on, we were going to have some problems," Stahl said. "She is their best hitter, so pretty much the game was on the line right then. After we got the strikeout and got back into the dugout, I knew we had won the championship."
Hamilton has made a habit of winning slow-pitch softball state championships. The victory secured the program's first-pitch title after several chances in the championship round.
"We wanted to make history," Ferraro said. "That was the biggest thing. Hamilton had never won it in fast pitch. This was something new, and we wanted to be part of that history. This feels great. I am proud of my teammates. We have worked hard the entire season. It was good to hold that championship trophy."
Last season, Hamilton lost to Bogue Chitto in the state championship series.
"It started on that bus ride home," Hamilton coach Bryan Loague said. "On our way back from Ridgeland, the girls said we are going to back and win it next year. The Monday after we lost, they came back in and started going to work. This is something we have been planning for 12 months. It feels great to see it all come together. This group deserves that first fast-pitch championship."
In the series opener Thursday, Hamilton scored three times in the seventh to take a 6-4 victory. In the second game Friday, Myrtle scored three times in the seventh for a 7-5 victory.
While the first game was crisp and well played, the game Friday featured seven errors. Four of the Lady Hawks' seven runs were unearned.
"After that game, we were disappointed but not upset or mad or anything like that," Ferraro said. "When we play our very best, we can't be beaten. We may be a bunch of young girls from a small town, but we enjoy softball. We just knew in the final game we had to come out and play our very best. For one last time in the last game, everybody had to play well."
Hamilton (19-12-1) surged to a 6-0 lead with two runs in the second and four in the third.
The early lead was protected by Hamilton's third line-drive double play in the series.
Stahl overcome five early baserunners to set the side down in order in the fourth. In the fifth, the Lady Hawks (20-7) finally scored. In the sixth, two hits and a walk brought a run in and put Stahl in a precarious position.
"Biggest strikeout ever," Hamilton left fielder Hannah Rooks said. "We were losing the momentum fast. After we lost the lead Friday, you can tell there was some nervousness. (Lowery) almost had a good hit, but it went foul before the strikeout. Anna Claire really came through.
"That's how we work, though. Somebody new steps up each game."
Hamilton used five hits to score five runs in the seventh. Ferraro had her third hit and second RBI to get things going.
With each hit in that inning, a large Hamilton crowd grew louder and louder. Still, the fans had enough energy to pull Stahl through in the home half of the seventh.
"That trophy is so big," Hamilton shortstop Taylor Brock.
On this day, it was almost as big as Stahl's sixth-inning strikeout.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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