Stone Bridge softball wins state title on consecutive pitches

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Stone Bridge softball coach Billy Rice had questions about his inexperienced team heading into this spring season. Could this new batch of Bulldogs escalate? Would they deliver a timely at-bat if needed?

The answers were confirmed in the Class 5 title match on Saturday, as Stone Bridge beat Hickory, 2-1, at Riverside High in Leesburg. This is the second state title for the program, which first reigned in 2019.

A day after pitching a perfect game against Granby in the state semifinals, junior Kayla Fekel shone again for the Bulldogs, striking out 11 without stepping on a batter. Fekel’s brilliance kept Stone Bridge alive while the attack didn’t generate much throughout the game.

With the score tied at 1 heading into the seventh inning, Fekel retired back-to-back batters and then grounded out to give the Bulldogs a chance to win in the bottom half.

“Kayla just got going in the top of the seventh, stopped them, really put the pressure on them,” Rice said.

Junior Annie Waisley tied on six pitches in the bottom of the seventh, and Mairin McCarthy singled to bring Fekel to the plate with the chance to win it for the Bulldogs (22-6). Fekel was hit on the second pitch of her at-bat, loading the bases with one out for sophomore Jackie Yeager.

Yeager saw the second throw of her own stick screaming at her moments later. The pitch hit Yeager and the pain quickly turned to excitement as Stone Bridge emerged victorious.

“It was so hard our runner on third couldn’t tell it was a hit-per-pitch,” Rice said. “She thought maybe it was a foul ball because she saw the umpire’s hands go up for a dead ball and then she stopped and started to come back in third.”

“Go score, Mairin!” Rice shouted.

McCarthy hit home, and the Bulldogs did. For Rice, it was his team’s development into a confident group that helped his players land their shots and achieve victory in dramatic, yet odd ways.

“[Waisley] won because she was disciplined, same with Mairin,” Rice said. “They were very disciplined at the plate at the end because we saw that [Hickory’s pitcher] was struggling a bit, and as a group they managed to get that one through.

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