It would have been easy for Aynor pitcher Brooke Elliott to become dejected and wonder what could have been after she allowed five runs in the first two innings Friday night in the deciding game of the S.C. State Class AA Softball Championship Series.
But Elliott has played too long with this group of Blue Jackets to doubt them.
“I know my team and I know my teammates are fighters,” said Elliott, who pitched all 26 innings of the series. “I knew the whole time we could come back and win this ballgame. That’s what champions are made of – fighters – and you’ve got to fight the whole way. If you give up you’re going to lose.”
Aynor got a pair of three-run homers in the fourth and fifth innings by Morgan Elliott and Layna Johnson and scored the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly in the sixth to capture the state title with an 8-7 win over Andrew Jackson at South Florence High.
The title is Aynor’s first state softball championship since a Class A title 25 years ago, and came in front of a huge and vocal crowd that was several rows deep around the fence surrounding the playing field.
“Honestly, this is something I’ve been dreaming about since I started playing in seventh grade, and now that it’s here it doesn’t seem real,” said Hannah Seaver, an all-state senior headed to Furman. “I think I’m going to wake up in a minute and I’m going to be mad because it didn’t really happen.”
Andrew Jackson won its two state championships back-to-back in 2006 and 2007, and Friday night was the final game for 19-year Volunteers coach Steve Middleton.
“I was supposed to go out better than this, I wanted to go out with a championship, but give them credit, Aynor’s got a great team,” Middleton said.
“The thing they’ve got is pop in their bat to hit home runs and we have to fight and scratch for ours, and in the end if you can hit home runs you have an advantage.”
Andrew Jackson (27-8) jumped on Aynor (32-8) with four runs in the bottom of the first inning and one in the second.
Three Blue Jackets errors in the first inning contributed to their early deficit.
Kinsley Adams led off the first for the Volunteers with a sharp single to left and scored on a one-out double off the top of the left-center field wall by all-state selection Hannah Cobb. An RBI single by Angela Sims followed, then Aynor contributed to two more runs.
Third baseman Taylor Charlton fielded a grounder and threw to second base for a force but no one was covering the base. T.J. McGowan then lined out to Brooke Elliott and her throw to first attempting to double up Savannah McKittrick went into right field to allow the third run. The fourth run scored on a misplayed ground ball.
A pair of doubles in the second inning by Adams and Cobb gave Andrew Jackson a 5-0 lead.
“We started off not playing very well,” seven-year Aynor coach Sandie Jones said. “We were just uptight. We knew we had to settle down a little bit and great things would start happening. I never lost faith in them, for not one moment. Every one of these young girls are fighters and don’t give up.”
Aynor got one back in the third on an inside-the-park home run by Shelby Cox, who slashed a fastball into the right field corner.
The comeback intensified in the fourth, as Charlton singled, Layna Johnson was hit by a pitch with one out and Morgan Elliott deposited a three-run homer over the right-center field wall.
“Everybody was getting down when it was 5-0, and hitting that ball just pumped everybody up and got everybody excited,” Morgan Elliott said. “It was a big momentum changer.”
The Blue Jackets nearly tied the game in the fourth but Morgan Richardson, who had doubled, was thrown out at the plate following a single by Cox on a nice throw by McGowan in center field.
“The biggest blow today was [Morgan Elliott], we had held her all series and all of a sudden she hits a bomb,” Middleton said. “Someone is going to come up big in a big game.”
Aynor took a 7-5 lead in the fifth on a single by Seaver, two-out infield single by Jessie Johnson on a short blooper that was just out of the reach of charging and diving first baseman Angela Sims, and a three-run home run well over the left field wall by Layna Johnson, an eighth-grader.
The 13-year-old made enough of an impression in a preseason tournament to be make the varsity team, and the blast was her fourth homer of the season.
Andrew Jackson manufactured a couple runs in bottom of the fifth to tie the game. A pair of batters reached on an error and infield single, Rylee Sims knocked in a run with a single to right field and the tying run scored on a wild pitch. The Vols left go-ahead runners on second and third with a pop-up to third to end the inning.
Aynor’s big blasts erased their early deficit, and a comparatively innocuous sacrifice fly to right field by Cox in the top of the sixth provided the game-winning run. It scored Hannah Page, who hit a one-out triple into the right-center field gap.
Brooke Elliott left the tying run on second base with a strikeout of Morgan Bailey on a 3-2 count to end the game and begin a celebration that started with a pig pile in front of the pitcher’s mound.
“It’s a blessing from God and it feels wonderful,” Jones said.
The teams split games on their home fields in the three-game series, as Andrew Jackson won Monday’s opener 4-3 in 12 innings and Aynor evened the series with an 8-5 win Wednesday. “It could have gone either way,” Middleton said. “People kept making big plays.”
▪ W: Brooke Elliott .L: Hannah Cobb. Top hitters: . Aynor: Shelby Cox 2-3 HR 2RBI, Hannah Seaver 3-4 run SB, Layna Johnson 1-2 HR 3RBI 2runs, Morgan Elliott 1-3 HR 3RBI, Hannah Page 1-3 3B run, Morgan Richardson 1-3 2B. Andrew Jackson: Kinsley Adams 2-4 2B run, Hannah Cobb 2-4 2-2B 2RBI, Angela Sims 1-4 RBI 2runs, Rylee Sims 1-3 RBI.
▪ Records: Aynor 32-8, Andrew Jackson 27-8.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.