Sydney Parker’s game-winning hit helped send Greenwood to the 6A softball championship game.
On Saturday, Parker’s home run helped deliver a title for the Lady Bulldogs. Parker — a sophomore catcher — broke a scoreless game with a two-run shot to left in the fourth, and Parker’s battery-mate, junior Victoria Taylor, made that lead stand with a two-hit shutout as Greenwood defeated Sheridan, 3-0, Saturday at Bogle Park for the 6A championship.
It was the first state title for the Lady Bulldog softball program since 1998. Greenwood (25-6) also was able to win the title in just the third season under coach Ronnie Sockey.
"I knew we had some great players and good pitching," Sockey said. "We just put it all together and our girls coming together as a team and starting to believe they are a good team and go win games like that right there.
"Those were the kind of games we were losing in the past, and we’ve been playing with all the good teams every year, we just had to find a way to get over that hump and find a way to go win it with our defense and just trusting that offense to go get us a couple of runs there."
For the first three innings, it was a scoreless affair. Taylor was keeping Sheridan off the board, but Sheridan pitcher Morgan Burke retired the side in order in each of her first three innings of work.
But in the bottom of the fourth, the Lady Bulldogs got the break they needed. Sydnie Henson, the lead-off batter, laid down a bunt right in front of the plate which she was able to beat out for a single. Abbey Lejong then moved Henson to second with a sacrifice bunt, bringing up Parker, whose RBI single Monday gave Greenwood a 1-0 win against Benton.
On the second pitch of the at-bat, Parker came through again, hitting a soaring drive which landed just beyond the wall in left, as the Lady Bulldogs grabbed a 2-0 advantage.
"We were in the same position that we were in our semifinal game, a runner at second and me up to bat, and I just felt like I needed to do my job and get her in," Parker said. "I was trying for a base hit, but it turned out to be more and it was the best moment of my life.
"(When the ball was hit over the wall) I looked up and I saw it and I just started jumping up and down around the bases."
Sockey said it was Henson’s bunt which helped set the table for Parker’s big hit.
"She (Henson) used her speed right there and trusted her ability to put the bunt down and got us going right there, and then another sac bunt to get her in scoring position, then trusting our three and four hole to drive her in," Sockey said. "That’s kind of been the (approach) for us all year is getting people on and finding ways to score."
The Lady Bulldogs got an insurance run in the fifth, after Tatum Holland reached base on an error to start the inning, and Sockey put in Hannah Booker to run. Devyn Gregory came up and laid down a successful sacrifice bunt. On the bunt, Booker broke for third, and Sheridan threw across the diamond, but the ball sailed past the bag, allowing Booker to score Greenwood’s final run.
That was more than enough for Taylor, although she had to work to earn her shutout.
Sheridan put two runners on in three of those innings, including the sixth, when the Lady Jackets brought the tying run to the plate with two outs. But Taylor got a pop-up in foul territory, with first baseman Phoebe Ulmer making a sliding catch on her knees to make the inning-ending play.
In the top of the seventh, Taylor gave up a one-out walk, before coming back to strike out the next batter. Then with a 1-2 count on Sheridan’s Maggie Hicks, Taylor shook off a change-up and went for the rise ball instead, and got Hicks to chase it for Taylor’s 10th strikeout, sealing the state championship.
"I kind of got a little bit nervous because of their hitting, but I knew I had a good defense behind me to back me up," Taylor — named the tournament MVP following the game — said. "My defense backed me up well and they did really good; I’m proud of them."
Taylor finished the game allowing two hits, one of which came to the very first batter of the game, and four walks to go with her 10 strikeouts.
"Once (Taylor) settled in, we knew where we were at, if we could get one or two (runs), we were right there to win it," Sockey said. "(Sheridan) was a great hitting team and for her to get that 10th strikeout on that last batter was big.
"I trusted her on that last pitch. I said, ‘It’s your pitch,’ and I gave her the sign and told her it was her call, whatever she wanted to throw and she went and got it done, so she’s learning how to pitch."
While Sockey said it was a great feeling to win state, with players such as Taylor and Parker returning for next season, the coach believes it can merely be the start of a possible dynasty for the Lady Bulldogs.
"We’ve got a great bunch of girls that will be back next year, so we’re expecting to have a shot back here again. … It’s only the beginning," Sockey said.