Ding dong, the witch is dead.
After a nearly 50-year wait, the Carroll County softball team gave CCHS the first team state title in school history Saturday with a 1-0 victory over Woodgrove in the 4-A State Championship game at Liberty University. With the tying run on second base and two outs, Sydney Nester’s 1-2 pitch froze batter Alexa Dolby at the plate.
As soon as home plate umpire Kenny Crews reared back for strike three, Liberty’s Kamphuis Field erupted as the Lady Cavaliers mobbed their freshman ace pitcher. Meanwhile, the massive contingent of CCHS supporters went bonkers in the stands, exploding into a frenzy of euphoria 46 years in the making.
“It gives you chills. You think about it and it brings tears to your eyes,” Carroll County head coach Rick Nester said of the tremendous fan support the team has received this year. “The other night when we were leaving out, they had an escort for us and the girls on the bus, some of them had tears in the eyes. And you just heard the comment, ‘If this don’t give you chills…’ The people in the town were lined up from the stoplight all the way to (Route) 100 at Red Hill Store. The people in the town, you have Lucky Woodyard, who has been battling with illness all year and he was up here yesterday. We got some of the older people that have been at every game. You just can’t put it in to words what it means to the girls.”
Meanwhile, the Carroll County head coach may have a hard time finding anyone to play poker with for the foreseeable future. Going back to the previous week, Rick Nester continued an amazing streak of full houses and royal flushes that resulted in a state title.
The biggest may have been the ultimate bluff he pulled in the 4-A North Regional title game one week earlier against this same Woodgrove team. Opting not to let the Wolverines get a sneak peak at Sydney Nester, the Cavalier coach instead chose to pitch Gracie Davidson. A number one pitcher in her own right for most schools, Davidson allowed just six hits and two runs against a Woodgrove team that won state titles in 2014 and 2012, and had been to the state championship game five consecutive seasons. But by pitching Davidson, it allowed Carroll to hold back all of its cards for a potential championship rematch.
“If he wins, he’s a genius,” Woodgrove Coach Joe Spicer told The Washington Post. “And he’s a genius.”
It was a role Davidson was more than willing to take on to help her team.
“It wasn’t fun losing, but I knew that we didn’t need to show them Sydney, we didn’t need to show them any of our tricks,” she said.
And boy did the gamble ever pay off. Although she had thrown 107 pitches in the win the previous day against Deep Creek, Carroll’s impeccable freshman took the hill with a vengeance Saturday. She struck out 13, including the clincher against Dolby. Nester was perfect for the first 4.2 innings, sitting down the first 14 batters she faced before Taylor Kilgour singled to center field in the fifth.
Meanwhile, last week’s regional loss to Woodgrove allowed Carroll County to get an early look at the Wolverines’ Camryn Dolby. And even though Carroll mustered two hits against the Wolverines’ ace last week, the Cavs tagged her for 10 in the rematch.
“It helped a lot because we knew exactly what she was going to be throwing to us,” Davidson said.
Davidson certainly got Carroll in the right mindset as she hammered a one-out Dolby offering in the top of the first for a ground-rule double that at first looked like it might clear the fence. Still, it paved the way for the Cavalier bats the rest of the day.
“I thought the tempo was set in the first inning. Gracie Davidson hit that double in the first inning and the girls are like, ‘We can hit her,’” Rick Nester said. “And they put the ball in play and it just seemed like we didn’t the runs across.”
Yes, Carroll left 11 runners on base. That’s okay, because Carroll’s coach was holding an ace up his sleeve in the fifth inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, Nester picked the absolute perfect time for the old pickle play. With Jeannie Utt on third, Hannah Dalton made a beeline from second, setting herself up for a rundown. By the time Dolby threw from the pitcher’s mound, Dalton coaxed a total of three throws from the pitcher, shortstop and third baseman, giving Utt more than enough time to cross the plate for the game’s only run.
Nester said he was afraid the play wouldn’t work, but in a state championship game, you have to play all your cards.
“I thought we’ve got to do something. I was afraid to do it at first because I thought they might know about it,” he said. “But I thought at that point, I am going to try it because there are two outs and we were going to go after it.”
With three hits, Dalton had more than Woodgrove’s entire team Saturday. She said as soon as Nester called for the pickle, she instantly got nervous. The play had worked one other time this year though, so she was ready to take her chances.
“I saw the throw, so I turned around and Coach Nester told me to go back,” Dalton said, “And I knew she had scored by then. It was awesome.”
Carroll’s riverboat gambler had one more roll left in the tank in the bottom of the seventh after Lexi Acton led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Nester called for the hidden ball trick with Davidson falling down at second base. Acton left the bag and appeared to be had, but she got back one step before Sydney Nester arrived with the ball and could make the tag.
It mattered little as Carroll’s freshman phenom struck out Adriana Erickson and Alexa Dolby to end the game, securing the state title, and with it, school history.
“It is so amazing. It’s crazy to think about me being a freshman, coming out here and pitching a final game,” Sydney Nester said. “It’s just crazy being out here. Great turnout, great crowd, great team, it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Carroll Co. 000 010 0 – 1 10 0
Woodgrove 000 000 0 – 0 2 0
Nester and Horton (CC); C. Dolby and Daughtry (W). WP – Nester. LP – Daughtry. 2B – Davidson (CC).
Allen Worrell can be reached by calling (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN