MURFREESBORO – Coach Don Freudenthal had to wait nine years for his team to get back to the state softball tournament. He didn’t mind waiting out a two-hour slugfest in his first game back.
His Ezell-Harding team scraped out a run in the bottom of the seventh, captured an 11-10 slugfest over Jackson Christian and moved into the DII-A winners bracket finals at Starplex Field.
Senior Kayla Eakes rapped her third hit of the game, a clean single to lead off the seventh. Callie Bobo sacrificed, but the ball was thrown away, and Eakes came all the way around after an outfield error to finally end the high-scoring game.
“I was hoping for the top of our order to come up in the seventh, because Kayla is so dependable in getting on base,” Freudenthal said. “She puts the ball in play, hits for power and does anything to get on base.”
“When I was headed the second, I saw the ball get thrown away,” the senior shortstop said. ”And when the outfield throw got away from the catcher, I knew I could score standing up.
“This is my senior year, and I knew I had to step things up for my team. This is the last chance I’ve got to win a state championship. This was pretty amazing.”
Freudenthal’s last trip to state came in 2001 when his Jennifer Wright-led team gave the him and school the last of its 12 softball championships.
“I can’t believe it’s been that long,” he said. “I like the way our team is playing, and we beat an outstanding team. I joked with their coach as we finished the top half of the seventh, saying, ‘You should have kicked the field goal, instead of going for the TD.’”
Ezell made a huge defensive play in that inning, after Christian had loaded the bases with one out.
Catcher Courtney Williams picked a runner off third, and Ezell escaped when Cassie Johnson tracked down a long drive to center, leaving the game tied 10-10. Earlier, Baylee Sullivan made a diving catch in right to save another run.
In a softball rarity, both pitchers were knocked out in the first inning as Christian scored four runs, and Ezell came back with six and an early two-run lead. The inning lasted 28 minutes.
Freshman Christiana Gable came on in relief of Bobo and pitched 6 2/3 innings of six-hit baseball, striking out seven.
“I was just glad we could win the game, especially for the seniors,” Gable said. “We really played good defense. This was an amazing win.”
Eakes went 3-for-5, Bobo and Gable had two hits and everyone in the Eagle lineup had at least one hit. Gable drove in three runs, two with a single in a three-run third. Tabitha Fuller’s two-run single capped the six-run Eagle first.
“Kayla kind of owed me one after she hit a hard foul ball off my elbow a couple innings earlier,” Freudenthal said, laughing.
Ezell (30-11) next plays 10 a.m. Thursday in the winners bracket final.