By Matt Wiley
Facing adversity is one of the themes at the heart of every great sports story. A young team with no postseason experience, the 2012-13 Freedom Patriots softball season truly could be considered a “Cinderella Story.” The numbers, however, present a different tale, that of a full-steam-ahead march to the Class 7A-9 FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) State Championship in Vero Beach. Although the Patriots were ultimately defeated, it was an experience none of the girls will soon forget.
Despite a loss at the Class 7A-District 9 Championship game to Chamberlain on April 18, the Patriots still advanced to the Regional tournament as the District runner-up, where the girls didn’t waste any time getting on a hot streak.
“It was our first time in the postseason, so we didn’t really have many expectations coming in,” Freedom head coach Autum Hernandez said afterwards. “If you’re playing well at that time of the year, that’s all it takes to get to the final. We just happened to string together some wins that led us to the final game. It was exciting for the girls, and the school. Every game, we had a different hero.”
Hernandez says that she is most proud of the hard work that the girls put in to get the team to the State championship.
“We continued to play great defense throughout the post season,” says Hernandez. “That kept us in games and allowed us to score runs late. We used two pitchers throughout post season (senior Katlin Hall and sophomore Grace Street) and they were a great one-two combination punch.”
Following a 2-0 victory against the Countryside High Cougars (24-4) on April 24, the Patriots (22-4) once again found themselves pitted against the reigning 7A-9 and defending state champs in the Regional Semifinal: the Chamberlain Chiefs (21-8). The game ended up being delayed and postponed twice due to the weather.
“Having to play Chamberlain three days in a row to finish one game, due to the weather, was pretty physically draining,” Hernandez says.
However, thanks to solid batting from junior Rachel Carlson and sophomore Kayla Maczuga, both batting .500, as well as junior Ashley Wilson, senior Katlin Hall and Kaitlin’s sister freshman Maddy Hall (each batting .333), the Patriots held on for a 4-2 win. Hall came in late to replace Street on the mound to hold off Chamberlain after the Chiefs scored two runs in the third.
Whiteside and Wilson then took apart the pitching of the Sarasota Sailors’ (13-12) in the Regional Final game on May 3. In the top of the seventh inning, the pair batted in five runs after trailing 1-0 since the fourth. Hall again closed the game on the hill, allowing only 2 hits, but no runs. Whiteside hit her first high school home run, which also happened to be a grand slam, to seal the victory.
And, just when it looked as if the Patriots could be heading home, playing extra innings in the State semifinals against Chiles High Timberwolves (25-8) on May 8 at the Vero Beach Sports Village, junior Ashley Wilson stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth and cranked a walk-off home run to win 1-0 and send the Freedom girls to the State title game. Wilson was 2-for-3 (her other hit was a double) in the game, and she was the only Freedom player with any hits. Street and Hall kept the game close, allowing no runs among the 30 batters they faced.
The End Of The Line
The postseason hot streak came down to the May 9 State Championship game against the St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders (22-5) of Ft. Lauderdale. A true pitcher’s battle, the Raiders’ Meghan King allowed only 1 Freedom hit, while Street and Hall allowed a combined 6 hits to the Raiders.
“They had a lefty pitcher, which is something we’re not used to seeing,” Hernandez explains. “(King) threw a great game against us,”
The Raiders sealed the victory in the sixth inning when Aquinas’ Rachel Collins batted in a run scored by Erica Nori. The Patriots were not able to respond in the bottom of the sixth.
“We only had one base hit, by Maddy Hall,” Hernandez says. “We had our opportunities with base runners, with batters that were hit or who walked, but we just didn’t take advantage of those. The girls) were definitely upset, but they’ll be able to look back on the game in a few weeks and see what they accomplished. (In the postseason) you have to play good defense and score runs when you have the opportunity.”
Regardless of the State final loss, the Patriots finished the season ranked number 32 overall Florida, according to Maxpreps.com.
“I think this experience will give them confidence for next year,” Hernandez says. “We’re losing four seniors, but the experience that the underclassmen got, there’s no replacing that.”
Congratulations to the Freedom High Lady Patriots softball team for their first postseason appearance and first trip to a softball State Championship game!