VERO BEACH — They’re staging the state prep softball finals on the grounds once known as Dodgertown, where no less an immortal than Sandy Koufax once worked his arm into shape each March.
At times Thursday night, it seemed he still was working.
A mesmerizing southpaw ended the greatest season in Freedom High history. Capping the most dominant week of her career, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas junior left-hander Meghan King never let the Patriots catch up with her diverse array of rises and drops.
The result: a one-hitter for King and 1-0 loss for Freedom (22-4) in the Class 7A final. In 23 innings this week, including a Monday region final, King allowed five hits and no runs.
“Maybe this is our second or third (lefty) that we’ve faced,” Freedom coach Autum Hernandez said, moments after consoling her crestfallen team in shallow rightfield.
“She definitely caught us off guard a little bit with that. We knew coming into the game she was a lefty. We had the opportunities, we just didn’t execute when we needed to.”
For a team that had thrived on eleventh-hour execution all postseason, it was a disheartening end to a breakthrough spring.
The Patriots, who had scored the winning runs in the seventh inning or later in three of their previous four postseason games, put only one runner in scoring position and watched King tally eight strikeouts.
A University Maryland commitment, King said roughly 80 percent of her pitches Thursday were rises, curves or drop balls.
“She just throws that really good pitch inside and outside,” said Patriots junior Ashley Wilson, whose eighth-inning walkoff homer in Wednesday’s semifinal against Tallahassee Chiles propelled Freedom to the title game.
“She’s all-around a great pitcher. I give her real props for what she did tonight.”
Freshman catcher Maddy Hall got her team’s only hit, a leadoff single in the sixth. She moved to third on a pair of grounders before King forced senior Katlin Hall — Maddy’s sister — to ground out, ending the inning.
In accordance with her postseason custom, Hernandez replaced starting pitcher Grace Street (no runs, four hits, two strikeouts) with Katlin Hall to start the fifth. Street had allowed a leadoff double in the fourth, but thwarted an ensuing suicide squeeze with a throw-out at the plate.
Hall retired Aquinas in order in the fifth before allowing a leadoff single to Kathryn Behm in the sixth.
After Morgan Biddle’s sacrifice bunt, Behm scored on Rachel Collins’ double.
It’s all the production King would need.
“I thought that we’d make better contact, especially when Maddy led off that inning with the base hit. It didn’t happen, we didn’t execute when we needed to,” Hernandez said.
“But I’m super proud of them. … Their families are proud of them, their school’s proud of them, so we’re just trying to remind them of that.”