UNION — If Union County is crowned District Champions tonight on the softball field it will be due, in large part, to the production of the team’s youngest players.
Since the start of Class 3-A playoffs, some of Union County’s biggest game-changers have been eighth- and ninth-graders.
“These girls are young but they’ve played all their lives so they know how to deal with the pressure of big games,” said Coach Jay Allen. “We know if we play our game we can play with anybody in the state.”
The Lady Jackets are stocked with capable athletes and on any given night a different play-maker emerges.
Tonight, Union County will put its skills to the test in a re-match of last Friday’s first round playoff bout with 2012 2-A State Champions, Palmetto.
Last week, in a defensive battle that saw nine total hits, Union County pulled out some last second heroics to snag a 5-4 win over the Mustangs, sending them to the loser’s bracket. Trailing 4-3 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, freshman Dexlie Inman delivered a game-winning 2-RBI hit up the middle.
The Lady Jackets allowed Palmetto to take an early 4-0 lead and then trailed in every inning until the seventh.
“We’re not going to hurt ourselves tonight,” said Allen. “Palmetto’s going to have to hit to win.”
The Lady Jackets advanced to the winner’s bracket where they put on an offensive clinic Tuesday at Chapin en route to a 4-1 win.
Union County Impact Players
Ashley Vinson, an eighth-grader at Sims Middle School, moved up to varsity at the start of the season and has been one of Union County’s most capable long-ball hitters. She smashed a solo homer against Palmetto in the first round of playoffs moments after junior Cece Moorman belted a four-bagger over the center-field fence.
Ninth-grader Dexlie Inman plays second base and last Friday she hit a clutch, game-winning line drive.
Then there’s the dynamic duo of Payton Martin and Hannah Sailors — Union County’s freshmen pitchers who share time on the hill and have each tossed several shutouts this year. Allen feels confident when either Martin or Sailors take the rubber.
“They’re both ready all the time,” he said. “They’ve been solid all year and they know they’ve got a strong defense behind them.”
Union County doesn’t rely solely on its younger talent. Senior Presbyterian College signee Abby Allen powers the offense and also anchors the infield where she plays shortstop.
MaKayla Plemmons, who will attend Spartanburg Methodist College on a volleyball scholarship in the fall, also pulls her weight on the diamond. She provides the Lady Jackets with a good glove at first base and a big stick on offense.
Tanija Hunter is a vacuum in center-field, tracking down anything that’s hit her way. Hunter brings a ton of speed to the line-up and the Lady Jackets benefit when they can get her on base.
Eighthgrader Kendall Henderson is the newest addition to the team. She was brought up to varsity at the conclusion of Sims’ season and currently posts up behind home plate for Union County.