VERO BEACH – It was small ball that got the Bishop Verot softball team to the state finals, but it was the long ball at the right time that took the Vikings to the promised land.
“It’s unbelievable,” Verot coach Pablo Plaza said. “I was pacing back and forth. I even asked the trainer if he could give me something to calm me down, but they did it. We’re bringing a state title home to Lee County.”
Sammie Massaro blasted a solo home run down the left-field line to break a tie in the sixth inning of a seesaw Class 4A final game and Gillian Takais added an RBI double, pushing Verot (21-9) to a 7-5 triumph over Montverde Academy Thursday at Historic Dodgertown and the program’s first state title.
Verot entered the Final Four with a 1-4 all-time record in championship play. History, however, mattered little. The Vikings spent Thursday rewriting it.
“I love my high school,” Takais said. “We’ll always have this. My brother is going to school here and he’s going to be able to see a trophy that says ‘softball state champions.’”
Leading off the sixth with the score tied at 5, Massaro, a sophomore, hit the second pitch she saw just inside the foul pole to ignite one last rally. Nicole Fortner-Rodriguez followed with a stand-up double and Takais, who went 3-for-4 with two RBI, drove her in with a double.
Just before the game, Massaro prophetically asked Takais, “Where’s my dinger?”
It came at the exact right time.
“I was a little nervous, but I knew I had to do this for my teammates,” Massaro said, singling out the four seniors who were on the team that lost in a state semifinal in 2013. “I’m never going to play with them again. We’ll all remember this for a lifetime, though.”
Senior Erin Kyle, who tossed a one-hitter in a 8-0 semifinal win over Jacksonville Trinity Christian earlier in the day, gave up a leadoff single to Victoria Atkinson in the top of the seventh, but recorded three straight outs to clinch it.
Fortner-Rodriguez surrendered five runs on seven hits and struck out seven. The junior settled down after giving up three runs in the second, allowing Verot to stay in the game with a chance to win it in the late innings.
The Vikings had a little less than four hours between the semifinal and final thanks to heavy rains that wiped out all of the games Wednesday. Plaza went with Fortner-Rodriguez in the circle with the championship on the line after Kyle’s gem in the semifinal.
“Nicole and I have each other’s backs,” Kyle said. “She knows that if she gets into a sticky situation I’ve got her.”
Takais tripled to the gap in right-center field to in the first and then beat a throw to the plate on a Tayli Filla ground ball to shortstop. After Jennie Boisvert was hit by a pitch, Jessy McLean doubled to score a run and Kyle followed with an RBI-single.
With one out, Kyle was able to get caught in a rundown between first and second, allowing McLean to score the fourth run of the game.
Montverde provided an immediate answer by putting two on with one out. A two-run Brittany Shirley single that dropped into right field was followed by a Natalia Rodriguez RBI-triple off the left-field fence to cut the lead to one run.
The Eagles tied the game an inning later on a botched exchange at second base by the Vikings.
In the fourth, Fortner-Rodriguez sent a shot to the warning track in center for a double and Takais drove her in to take the lead back. Montverde scored off a wild pitch in the bottom of the frame to tie it at 5, setting up a classic ending.
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