GULFPORT — The disbelief was visible on the faces of the Bloomingdale players and supporters Tuesday.
Throughout its run to the championship game at the Little League Southern Regional softball tournament, Bloomingdale thrived in close, low-scoring games, winning its last three by one run each and coming from behind in two of those.
Against Simpsonville (South Carolina) with a berth to the Little League World Series on the line though, Bloomingdale's late-inning magic disappeared.
South Carolina broke open a 1-all tie by scoring twice in the fifth inning — Breezy Davis' double proved to be the winning hit — and kept Bloomingdale off the basepaths in the sixth to wrap up its first regional championship, 3-1.
"I told the girls when the Little League journey ends, it comes to a screeching halt," Bloomingdale manager Jerry Schinella said.
For South Carolina, the victory avenges a loss in last year's regional final to eventual World Series champion Tennessee. According to South Carolina manager Don Davis, it's the first time a team from South Carolina has advanced to the softball World Series.
"It just broke my heart last year when we lost to Tennessee," said Davis, the shortstop, who had both South Carolina RBIs. "I can't even explain how I'm feeling right now."
Perhaps most frustrating for Bloomingdale was its inability to drive home runners in scoring position. In the first inning, leadoff hitter Shannon Bell reached on an error and was awarded third base when the ball went into the dugout. Bell, however, never made it home as South Carolina's Amanda Storch struck out the next three batters.
In the third, Jordan Shook singled and advanced to third but was stranded. Even after scoring its lone run in the fourth when a wild pitch with the bases loaded allowed Mackenzie Morrison to cross the plate, Bloomingdale failed to do more damage as Storch's seventh strikeout sent another batter back to the dugout shaking her head.
"One or two key hits, I think the outcome would have been different, but that's softball," Schinella said.
Instead, it was South Carolina with the timely bats. Emma Swearingen hit her third single in three at-bats in the fifth before Davis, with two outs, belted a double into the right-centerfield gap. Carley Hoover followed with a single to put runners at second and third and a wild pitch brought home South Carolina's third run.
Storch, who pitched a complete-game three-hitter, retired the side in order in the sixth to hand Bloomingdale its first loss of the playoffs.
"I'm so proud of the girls and what they've accomplished," Schinella said. "You can't take away that they're district champs, section champs, state champs and runnerup in the region."