VERO BEACH — Canterbury had been unrelenting, and also largely untested, before it reached Thursday’s Class 2A state championship game against Aucilla Christian.
Only one opponent, Sarasota Christian in Wednesday’s state semifinal, had even scored on the Crusaders during a postseason in which they had outscored opponents a combined 41-1 in four games.
How would Canterbury react if it was challenged in a tight game?
The answer came in a 1-0 victory at Historic Dodgertown in which Canterbury had to bear down to overcome a seventh-inning scare. It was the Crusaders’ (21-6) second straight state title and third in four years. Their three titles ties them with Palm Harbor University for the most ever in Pinellas County.
“We worked hard all season to get to this point, and we had a way to push through when it mattered most,” Canterbury coach Jody Moore said. “That’s what good teams do.”
The Crusaders found out quickly they would not be registering another blowout. They struggled at the plate against Aucilla Christian’s Whitney Stevens, who allowed two singles and just three base runners through the first five innings.
Though Canterbury proved somewhat vulnerable in its most important game of the season, it confronted the peril with an unwavering resolve to win.
In the sixth inning, the Crusaders’ bats came alive. Taylor Bump singled and came home on a triple by Danielle Romanello for a 1-0 lead.
“We knew it was just a matter of time before we started to get things going,” said Romanello, who continued her tear through the postseason by going 2-for-3. “We were making contact through the first couple of innings. We just needed to get the good part of the bat on it.”
The real strength of this team was its relentlessness. Sure, it was talented. It had the best players. But it also had players who were willing to work hard and put aside individual achievement for the greater good.
“This is a group of determined girls who constantly pick each other up,” Moore said. “Great attitudes all around.”
The ability to persevere in a close game was also due in large part to a brutal regular season schedule that included games against state semifinal in larger classifications such as 8A Hagerty, 7A Harmony and 6A Gainesville P.K. Yonge.
“Absolutely the schedule played a factor,” Moore said. “It helped the girls what it takes to play in those type of games and the challenge to find a way to come through.”
Though the Crusaders managed just one run, it was enough for Kama Woodall, who was starting in a championship game a second straight year. Woodall allowed just two hits and struck out 13 batters.
The only anxious moments for Woodall came in the seventh inning when she had a throwing error that allowed the leadoff runner to reach base and intentionally walked the next.
No matter. Woodall reached back and fired the ball with authority, getting the two batters to strike out. The final batter popped up to Miranda Posey to seal the game.
“I had the throwing error, but my teammates were there to pick me up,” said Woodall, who allowed just one run in five postseason games. “We had to keep telling ourselves to keep fighting all the way through.”
Canterbury seems to find a way to make things interesting in championship games. All three of the Crusaders’ state titles have been a run and were not decided until the final at-bat.
“Our next goal is to win and not have to worry as much in the seventh inning,” Moore said.
That should be attainable considering the Crusaders return their entire lineup in their quest to become the first Pinellas County team to win three straight state titles.