Stone Bridge softball wins state title on consecutive hit-by-pitches

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Stone Bridge softball coach Billy Rice had questions about his inexperienced squad as this spring season dawned. Could this new batch of Bulldogs step up? Would they deliver a timely at-bat when needed?

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

A day after throwing a perfect game against Granby in the state semifinal, junior Kayla Fekel shined again for the Bulldogs, striking out 11 without walking a batter. Fekel’s brilliance kept Stone Bridge alive while the offense failed to generate much throughout the game.

With the score knotted at 1 heading into the seventh inning, Fekel struck out back-to-back batters and then induced a groundout to give the Bulldogs a chance to win it in the bottom half.

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

Junior Annie Waisley drew a six-pitch walk in the bottom of the seventh, and after Mairin McCarthy singled and Bergan Needles hit into a fielder’s choice, Fekel came to the plate with the chance to win it for the Bulldogs (22-6). Fekel was hit by the second pitch of her at-bat, loading the bases with one out for sophomore Jackie Yeager.

Yeager watched as the second pitch of her own at-bat came screaming toward her moments later. The pitch hit Yeager, and the pain quickly dissolved into excitement as Stone Bridge walked off as winners.

“It was so loud that our runner on third couldn’t tell it was a hit-by-pitch,” Rice said. “She thought it might’ve been a foul ball because she saw the umpire’s hands go up for a dead ball, and then she stopped and started going back to third.”

“Go score, Mairin!” Rice shouted.

McCarthy touched home, and the Bulldogs had done it. For Rice, it was the development of his team into a confident group that helped his players win their at-bats and clinch the victory in dramatic, yet odd fashion.

“[Waisley] won because she was disciplined. Same thing with Mairin,” Rice said. “They were very disciplined at the plate at the end because we saw that [Hickory’s pitcher] was struggling a little bit, and as a group they were able to push that one across.”

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