SARASOTA — Freedom’s Caroline Whiteside was just thinking to make contact when she stepped up to the plate in the seventh inning with the score tied 1-all.
Normally a singles hitter who bunts at the top of the lineup, Whiteside had two strikes with two outs and the bases loaded.
Sarasota pitcher Clarissa Lynch reached back and fired a fastball that Whiteside walloped, sending the pitch past the bleachers in left-centerfield.
Whiteside knew what she had done the instant the ball exploded off her bat.
She raised her arms and held them aloft, joyously triple-jumping around the bases, bounding up and down like Neil Armstrong on the moon.
In stunning fashion, the Patriots rallied to continue their improbable run through the playoffs, beating the Sailors 5-1 in the Class 7A region final due in large part to Whiteside’s grand slam, the first home run of the senior’s high school career.
“I was just thinking, ‘See the ball, hit the ball, when I was up there,” Whiteside said. “I wasn’t trying to make it too complicated. Honestly, I felt like a rock star when I was rounding the bases. I wanted to keep running.
“What more could you ask for? Seventh inning. Tie game. Two outs. I just wanted to give it my all.”
Freedom (21-3), which was in the playoffs for the first time this year, made the state final four thanks to the production from the bottom of its lineup.
Trailing 1-0 in the seventh inning, the Patriots rallied as No. 5 hitter Grace Street doubled. After Savanna Chavez flew out, Freedom got singles from Kayla Maczuga and Ashley Wilson, who brought home Street for the tying run. Rachel Carlson had another single to load the bases and Maddy Hall followed with a fielder’s choice that forced Maczuga out at home.
“This isn’t a typical bottom of the order,” Patriots coach Autum Hernandez said. “We got a lot of production out them and they certainly came through in this one.”
Added Whiteside: “I feel like I’m on top of the world. Everyone should be able to experience a moment like this, hitting a home run in this situation.”
At Vero Beach Sports Village
7A: Freedom vs. Tallahassee Chiles-Lake Howell*, 7 p.m. Wednesday