UNION COUNTY — For the third time in four years the Union County High School Lady Jackets Softball team has won the State Championship. The Lady Jackets defeated Hartsville in spectacular fashion Wednesday night at the Timken Sports Complex to claim the AAAA State Title.
Bailey Betenbaugh pitched for the Lady Jackets and had another fantastic game. Betenbaugh surrendered two runs on only two hits in seven innings pitched for Union County.
Hartsville got on the board first in the top of the second when the lead-off batter for the Lady Red Foxes, Myra McDonald, walked and then came around to score on a couple of errors by the Lady Jackets.
Hartsville’s 1-0 lead held until the bottom of the fourth when Abbie Valentine and Kristin Kicidis lead off the inning with back to back singles, were moved over by a Courtney Seymore sacrifice bunt, and then pinch runner Makala Grady tagged up and scored on a Rebecca Lee fly out that was caught in foul territory.
The score stayed tied at one until the top half of the seventh inning when McDonald walked again to lead-off the seventh. McDonald then stole second and advanced to third, on a ground-out back to Betenbaugh. The next batter grounded the ball to Ashley Vinson at 3rd who threw the ball home to try and put out the runner going home. Lady Jacket Catcher Abbie Valentine chased McDonald back to third where she slid in safely. The ball was then thrown to second when the runner at first tried to advance to second. When the ball was thrown to second McDonald took off for home where she scored to give Hartsville a 2-1 lead.
The Lady Red Foxes took that 2-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. Rebecca Lee led off the inning with a single, and Coach Tommy Petty put in Ashanti Young to pinch run for Lee. The next Union County batter, Naquandria Ray, attempted to sacrifice the runner to second but the runner attempted to go from first to third and was thrown out at the bag at third. Jazmyne Boyd then singled to put runners on first and second with one out. Katelyn Petty then singled to drive in Ray and tie the game at 2-2.
What happened next was like something from a movie. Tie game bottom of the final inning and the only senior on the team, Ashley Vinson walked up to the plate and hit a massive 3 run, walk-off home run to give the Lady Jackets the win 5-2 and the Class AAAA State Title.
After the game Vinson stated, “ I was just looking for a base hit.”
A base hit would have got it done for the Lady Jackets who would have still hoisted the trophy winning 3-2 but the home run makes the story that much better.
The Lady Jackets entered the 2017 season with revenge on their minds. Seeing Hartsville celebrate winning the 2016 Championship on the Lady Jackets home field surely left a bitter taste in the mouths of the team.
The regular season for Union County went about as expected. The Lady Jackets lost six games in the regular season; two of those were to State Finalist Byrnes, who the Lady Jackets also defeated twice. The team only suffered one defeat in region play, and that was a 4-1 loss to Blue Ridge in the regular season finale.
The Lady Jackets failed to surrender a single run in the District Playoffs, shutting out Ridgeview once and Airport twice. Union County stayed in the winners bracket in the Upper State Tournament and cruised to victories over Lancaster and North Augusta before advancing to the title series were they defeated Hartsville two games to none.
A team that graduated a lot of star players last year rebounded nicely and was able to find new leadership to step up and guide the Lady Jackets to their third title in four years. Ashley Vinson, the team’s only senior, played third and occasionally pitched for the Lady Jackets. Vinson’s bat was also a big key to Union County’s success, as she was able to find big hits at the right time for the Lady Jackets all season.
Bailey Betenbaugh, a sophomore, pitched many of the games for the team. She also batted cleanup. Bailey has already committed to play college softball at the University of South Carolina.
Katelyn Petty did a great job moving over to shortstop from second base this year, and also did a great job hitting the softball. Abbie Valentine took over the catching duties full time this year and performed very well. Jazmyne Boyd always seemed to find a way to get on base from the lead-off spot.
The great thing about this team is the fact that they are so young. When you win a state title and only graduate one player, that’s a really good sign of things to come. The fun isn’t going to stop here, the Lady Jackets promise to be good for a while.
Lady Jacket Ashley Vinson is interviewed Wednesday night at the Timken Sports Complex after hitting the home run that won the Union County High School Lady Jackets Softball Team the AAAA State Title. The Lady Jackets defeated the Hartsville Lady Foxes 5-2 to claim the championship. The 2017 championship is the third one won by the Lady Jackets in the past four years.
Tyler Shugart is the host of “Bump and Run” from 7-9 a.m. on Fox Sports 1400 AM 98.3 FM in Spartanburg.