By Jeff Odom
The Freedom softball team’s magic simply ran out in the end.
The Patriots (22-4) mustered just one hit against Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas ace pitcher Meghan King and fell 1-0 to the Raiders (23-5) in the Class 7A state finals May 9.
Freedom coach Autum Hernandez told her players after the game how pleased she was with each of them and what the season meant to the program, which had never made the playoffs before this year.
“I told them I was super proud of them,” Hernandez said. “This is the first time we’ve advanced to the postseason and we make it all the way to the championship game. Their parents are proud of them. I’m proud of them. Their school is proud of them.
“So it’s bittersweet right now, and they’re upset right now, (but) looking back on this in a couple of weeks or a couple of months or years, they’ll realize what they’ve accomplished this year.”
The Patriots’ best chance to score came in the sixth inning when freshman Maddy Hall singled for Freedom’s only hit of the night. She moved to third on back-to-back groundouts, but was left stranded when King forced a groundout, ending the threat.
St. Thomas Aquinas used that momentum to its advantage and scored the only run of the night.
Katheryn Behm singled to lead off in the bottom of the frame and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Morgan Biddle. Then, with only one out, Rachel Collins doubled off of Patriots reliever Kaitlin Hall to score Behm, and that’s all the Raiders would need to seal the victory.
“I was hoping with all my heart that we would (come back),” said Freedom starting pitcher Grace Street. “But I guess sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”
To clinch a berth in the championship game, the Patriots knocked off Tallahassee Chiles 1-0 with a walk-off home run by Ashley Wilson in the eighth inning of the state semifinals May 8.
The Freedom outfielder worked the count full against Timberwolves (25-8) starting pitcher Samantha Martin, then drove the next pitch she saw to deep right field and over the wall for her first career homer.
“I just saw that ball coming right inside and thought that’s my pitch right there, and I swung for it and as soon as it came off the bat, I felt like it was a really good hit,” Wilson said. “When it went over, I was so excited just for my team and just what that means for all of us. That walk-off right there means the world.”
Both teams traded scoring opportunities throughout regulation, and Chiles looked poised to take its first lead in the top of the sixth.
Jenny Ross and Katie Baker singled to put runners at first and second. But after a quick out, Kaitlin, who relieved Street, got Hannah Hilaman to fly out to the left field warning track, which Wilson snared and rocketed to second to double up Ross and end the chance
In the eighth, the Timberwolves threatened when they got a runner to third with two outs, but Kaitlin stayed calm on the mound and worked out of the jam by getting a groundout to set up the walk-off.
Kaitlin, a Wharton transfer, echoed her coach and said it was a season to remember for the team, and she was proud to be a part of it.
“From this fall season I saw so much potential,” she said. “We came out and worked hard every day. … I thought we’d be good, but I didn’t think we’d be this good and make it this far. Teams are calling us the underdog, but I think we were just underestimated and unexpected.”
— Kyle LoJacono contributed to this report.
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