After devoting countless amounts of time, effort and energy toward winning a Class 1A state championship, the Jay Royals refused to fall in the 1A semifinals, regardless of how significant the obstacle was.
The Royals captured a 6-1 win over the Sneads Pirates, and had to power through a tough break when Jay’s starting pitcher and clutch hitter Destiny Herring went down with an apparent knee injury after hitting a single in the bottom of the third.
With a 2-0 lead, the Royals and head coach Brian Watson had the remainder of the third inning to evaluate Herring and make a decision.
They chose to go with Dana Blackmon, a pitcher which the Royals hold much confidence in… even with limited warm-up time.
Jay moves on to 1A state final at 10:05 CT tomorrow— Brian Achatz (@PnjBrian) May 6, 2015
Jay 6, Sneads 1 pic.twitter.com/wLRh64ILdA
“It kind of worried me a bit,” said Blackmon, referring to Herring’s injury. “Honestly, I wasn’t warmed up for pitching. At first I thought Destiny would be alright… she is tough. But I thought everyone stayed up. I did and I went in and did my job. Everyone else did too. People had to move around and play different positions. I think we all did pretty good.”
Blackmon’s first inning wasn’t perfect — Sneads scattered three hits and cut the lead to 2-1 — but she got out of the inning as Sneads stranded two runners.
Blackmon remained in the circle, and Herring sat out on offense and defense for the remainder of the semifinal game.
So the Royals rallied around their starting pitcher and made sure she’d get another attempt to take the field on Thursday.
In the bottom of the fourth, Jay exploded for three runs to create some breathing room.
Jay finished with 11 hits against Snead’s Brooke Williams, who recorded 20 strikeouts in the regional final against Central.
Herring is down after hitting a single. I don't like to speculate but it appears she might have pulled a hamstring. pic.twitter.com/LmspbuJcwJ— Brian Achatz (@PnjBrian) May 6, 2015
“We said we were gonna go in aggressive,” Watson said. “(Williams) struck out 20 in her last game. We tried not get in two strike counts so her offspeed and movement pitches wouldn’t affect us. And it worked. We got the barrel on balls and pushed them through the infield.”
In that decisive fourth inning, two runs came courtesy of Michaela Stewart, who had the biggest swing of the game when she produced a two-run double.
“It was my third at bat of the game, and my second at bat with a lot of pressure,” Stewart said. “I knew I had to get a hit and believe in myself. I’ve been in a slump but I’m getting out of it.”
In the circle, Blackmon allowed only one hit after her three-hit opening inning, and finished with two strikeouts.
“It’s very tough for a school to get to a final four, we’ve been here several years but we just didn’t come through,” Sneads coach Kelvin Johnson said. “But still, 27 wins is a lot of wins.
“Jay hit the ball real well… they just got timely hits.”
Jay fought through adversity to advance to the state championship game for the third time in four years. The Royals will face Chiefland in a rematch of last year’s championship game. Chiefland beat Bell 6-1 in the semifinals on Wednesday.
Game time is set for 10:05 a..m (local time) on Thursday.
• Who: Jay Royals (21-3) vs. Chiefland (18-4)
• What: Class 1A state championship game
• When: 10:05 a.m. today
• Where: Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach
• Players to watch: Jay — SS Michaela Stewart (.456, 1 HR, 40 runs, 14 RBIs); CF Harley Tagert (.436, 1 HR, 31 RBIs, 29 runs); P/1B Destiny Herring (12-2, 2.00 ERA; .390, 4 HRs, 32 RBIs); P/1B Dana Blackmon (8-1, 2.72 ERA; .449, 14 runs, 15 RBIs); Chiefland — P Lauren Stalvey (16-3, 0.76 ERA); Takiya London (.375, 3 HR, 21 RBIs, 20 runs); Morgan Anderson (.321, 2 HRs, 11 RBIs, 9 runs).