Back-to-back titles for Lady Warriors
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They were pushed to the limit, but when the final out was recorded on Saturday afternoon in Dublin, the LaGrange Academy Lady Warriors had another state-championship trophy to add to the collection.
In a hard-fought series where all three games were decided by one run, LaGrange Academy outlasted Thomas Jefferson to win a second consecutive GISA Class A state championship, and it was the eighth state title in the history of the program.
The series began on Thursday, and LaGrange Academy beat Thomason Jefferson 2-1.
The series resumed on Saturday with Thomas Jefferson winning 2-1 to even the series, and LaGrange Academy won the third and final game 4-3 to secure the state title by the slimmest of margins.
LaGrange Academy head coach Charles Parker was pleased that his players were able to see the season through to its conclusion, something that was far from a sure thing during this time of Covid-19.
“I was so worried back in June that we may not get to play,” said LaGrange Academy head coach Charles Parker. “I was more sad for the two seniors, and for any team’s seniors who may not get to play their last year, but they did.”
LaGrange Academy began its state-tournament run with a pair of blowout wins over First Presbyterian in the semifinals.
It was a different story in the championship series, with Thomas Jefferson going toe-to-toe with LaGrange Academy.
Lanie Lackey, the winning pitcher in the final game, enjoyed being a part of a suspenseful series where the outcome was in doubt.
“I like games like this,” Lackey said. “In blowout games, it’s not really fun to me. The games we played this weekend, it was absolutely a thrill ride.”
In the series opener, senior pitcher Amber Corley delivered a phenomenal performance on the mound as LaGrange Academy won 2-1.
In the seventh inning of a tie game, Corley doubled, and she scored the go-ahead run on a double by Natalee Waddell.
Following a day off, the series resumed on Saturday, and it was Thomas Jefferson securing the 2-1 win to force a winner-take-all game.
LaGrange Academy lost despite another stellar outing from Corley, who threw a complete-game five-hitter while striking out 12 batters.
Trailing 1-0, LaGrange Academy tied it with a run in the top of the third inning on an RBI single by Lackey.
Thomas Jefferson scored a single run in the bottom of the fourth to reclaim the lead, and LaGrange Academy was unable to answer.
Carolyn Lehman had two hits with a run scored for LaGrange Academy, Lackey had one hit and an RBI, and Corley and Morgan Bartlett each had a hit.
After a short break, the teams returned to the field for the decisive game three, and Lackey was called upon to pitch for LaGrange Academy. It was an opportunity Lackey embraced.
“I was over the moon,” Lackey said. “I was nervous at first, because that was the biggest game of my life. I’ve never pitched a game that big before. (Parker) giving me the opportunity to throw that big game meant a lot to me.”
Lackey was up to the challenge.
Lackey pitched 5 1/3 innings, and she held Thomas Jefferson to six hits, and only one of the three runs she allowed was earned.
After Thomas Jefferson scored one run in the first inning and two in the third, Lackey didn’t give up any more runs during her time on the mound, and Corley finished things off with 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
LaGrange Academy scored all four of its runs in the first inning, and it made that lead stand up thanks to the performances by Lackey and Corley.
“There was one point, I knew I had to hold them down, for my team, and for myself,” Lackey said. “We wanted to go back-to-back.”
Corley, who had a brilliant senior season, entered the game in relief with one out in the sixth inning and got the job done.
“When they pulled me out, I knew Amber was going to do her job,” Lackey said. “She was going to battle and hold it until the very end.”
Corley was fighting through an injury she suffered in the third game, but she gutted it out and got the job done.
“Amber twisted her ankle and we taped it up, but she wasn’t coming out,” Parker said.
Early on, it looked like LaGrange Academy might run away and hide.
After Thomas Jefferson scored a single run in the top of the first, LaGrange Academy exploded for four runs in the bottom of the inning. Lehman got the rally started with a base hit, and Waddell reached on a one-out single to put two runners on base.
After Kelsey Cotton was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Kayla McBride came through with a two-run double to give the Lady Warriors a 2-1 lead.
Next up was Caley Worsley, and she also delivered a two-run double, and LaGrange Academy led 4-1. The Lady Warriors had base runners throughout the remainder of the game, but they couldn’t put any more runs on the scoreboard.
“Both (Thomas Jefferson) pitchers pitched around base runners all day long,” Parker said. “Good pitchers can do that.”
Fortunately for the Lady Warriors, those four runs were enough, and when Corley retired all three batters she faced in the top of the seventh inning, they had their repeat title.
“I never thought about this (winning two straight titles) happening, but it’s a great honor,” Lackey said.