HICO — Don't panic.
That was the message from Midland Trail head coach Stevie Mooney to her team as it found itself in a 4-0 hole against Fayetteville entering the bottom of the third inning in Friday’s Fayette County Middle School Softball Tournament championship game.
The Patriots heeded the advice, and the end result was a 12-4 verdict over the Pirates.
The come-from-behind victory marked the third straight county title for the Patriots and enabled them to close out 2023 with a perfect 17-0 record.
“I did not see running the table,” Mooney said as her team celebrated. “I try to schedule our team every year with a very tough schedule, because I think competition makes them better.
“Some of the teams didn’t check out quite like we thought they were going to. We played some tough games (a 10-inning game and another close one with Eastern Greenbrier) and Pineville-Wyoming East. Tough competition. And Fayetteville ranks right up there with them.”
Midland Trail beat Fayetteville twice during the regular season.
For a little while Friday, the Pirates were in control and looking to conquer the Patriots in an upset. Fayetteville pushed across four runs in the top of the third to move into the 4-0 cushion.
Of falling behind, Mooney said, “Honestly, I was not concerned. I needed to calm my girls down. We take these girls and put them in tougher, bigger situations than this.
“The majority of these girls have played at the state level in the Little League State Tournament, so I knew they could handle the pressure, and I just needed to remind them this is what they were made for.
“We also reminded them that last year in the county tournament we went down 4-0 to Fayetteville in the beginning, and we battled back.”
Six Trail runs in the fourth and five more in the sixth handed the hosts the victory.
“The season was phenomenal,” Mooney said. “We had a phenomenal pitcher (tournament MVP Madison Rader), which always helps the situation.
“But, behind her we had a phenomenal team that I think doesn’t get the credit that they deserve. I knew without a shadow of a doubt no matter where they put the ball I could count on my defense. Also, it takes runs to win ball games, so we have to be able to hit the ball in order to win these ball games, and I knew I could count on every single one of these girls.”
The MTMS team batting average was over .400 for the season. Rader, an eighth-grader, broke her own team single-season strikeout record with 163 in 17 games. She also broke the single-season hits record and finished with 35 and had a .565 batting average.
Fayetteville (10-5) head coach Amy Calloway said, “It was just a good game; it was fun.”
“We knew we could do it (be competitive with the Patriots); we knew we could do it all along, all season long,” Calloway added. “And it finally came together for us.”
“We needed to make (fewer) errors,” she said. “Our own worst enemy is ourselves.
“We’re very pleased with our season. We’re our own worst enemy. Nobody beat us but ourselves.”
Calloway said she was proud of her team’s play. “Couldn’t be prouder of (the girls). We got it together at the end of the season. Sadly, we just came up short, but we lost to a great Midland Trail team.”
She also praised the “great friendship, great camaraderie,” displayed by the county teams at tourney’s end. “We just want to congratulate them and wish them all the best.”
In the finale, Rader struck out 15, walked three and yielded just two hits and no earned runs.
At the plate for the Patriots, Jessi Mooney was 1-for-3 with four RBIs to pave the way. She belted a run-scoring triple as the Patriots plated six runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to rally from a 4-1 deficit.
Also for Trail, Rader was 2-for-4 with a double and a pair of RBIs, and Presley Walker (RBI) and Stephanie Harrell supplied two hits each. Dayden Pridemore and Ava Campbell had one base hit apiece.
For the Pirates, Peyten Farrell went 2-for-3 on the night.
During the contest, Fayetteville hurler Makayla Smith was recognized for registering 100 strikeouts this season. Smith struck out eight Trail batters while allowing nine hits and only one earned run in the title matchup.
The game wasn’t a masterpiece, with the Pirates committing seven errors and the Patriots six.
For more coverage, including all-county and all-tournament teams, see next week’s The Fayette Tribune.
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