ST. PETERSBURG — Canterbury trailed Northeast 1-0 and was down to its final three outs when Hailey Hopkins came to bat Thursday.
With a runner on first, Hopkins paused, took a deep breath and squared away as if she was going to bunt. Actually, she did that in hopes of seeing the ball better. The first pitch was thrown hard, inside and dangerously over the plate. Hopkins took a mighty swing, sending the ball deep into the night. It sailed over the wall in right-centerfield and landed inside a boat Canterbury uses for its marine science program.
Hopkins knew what she had done the moment the ball exploded off her bat. She raised her hands in triumph, joyously circling the bases after a walkoff home run gave the Crusaders a 2-1 victory over the Vikings.
It was the first walkoff homer at any level of softball for Hopkins, a junior who transferred from Bradenton Manatee before the start of the season.
“It was just kind of a see-the-ball, hit-the-ball kind of moment,” Hopkins said. “All I was really hoping to do was get a hit and move the runner over. It was a good pitch, and I just felt it the moment I made contact.”
Before that, the Crusaders (10-4) struggled against Vikings pitcher Riley Randolph, who had won six straight and averaged 10 strikeouts during that span.
Thursday, Randolph dominated again, allowing one hit, walking a batter and recording six strikeouts through the first six innings. She had retired eight straight batters going into the seventh.
Randolph also was working with the lead. In the sixth inning, Aja Eglton singled and Relynn Capra brought her home with a triple to put Northeast ahead 1-0.
Still, Canterbury found a way.
“With our girls, anything is possible,” Crusaders coach Jody Moore said. “They have such composure, which is remarkable on a team with so many young players.”
Kama Alexander started the comeback by hitting a blooper into leftfield for a single. That set up Hopkins’ winner.
“We were still confident going into the last inning because we had our No. 3 and No. 4 hitters up,” Hopkins said. “Our games are usually close, and we always put up a good fight. We just never quit.”