Sunday, June 17, 2018
Sports

State softball: Down to last strike, Chamberlain rallies past Bartow 9-8 to win Class 7A title

CLERMONT — Once their feet land back on Earth, don't be stunned if the Chamberlain Chiefs cash in their fresh collection of gold medals and pay to have senior centerfielder Madison "Madi" Gonzalez bronzed.

With the Chiefs' season down to its final strike, Gonzalez hit her fourth home run in two days — this one a two-run shot to left-centerfield — in the top of the seventh inning to propel Chamberlain (27-5) to a 9-8 win against Bartow in Saturday night's Class 7A softball state title game.

"I'm absolutely stunned," Gonzalez said. "But we deserve it."

The victory, before a boisterous, standing-room-only audience at the National Training Center, was Chamberlain's second triumphant rally from a four-run deficit in as many days.

They have a superstitious 17-year-old who ate the same pregame meal the last two days — a supermarket ham-and-cheese sandwich and water — to thank for it. Gonzalez's state tournament stat line: 4-for-6, four homers, 11 RBIs, one swing for immortality.

Her final homer came on a 1-and-2 pitch from Yellow Jackets ace Lauren West, who had thrown a no-hitter the previous night against Tallahassee Chiles. With third baseman Ellen Scott, who had doubled, on second base, West threw one down the middle and inside. Gonzalez said it was a bit high.

"That's my strike zone, so I just drove it," she said.

"I didn't want to strike out because I would feel really bad about myself, but I knew I had to get in and relax and whatever happened was meant to happen. I just saw the ball and just hit it wherever it was pitched."

Minutes later, Chiefs backup pitcher Amber Fullwood, who relieved struggling starter Rachel Dwyer for the second day in a row, set off the euphoria by forcing the Yellow Jackets' No. 9 and 1 hitters to hit grounders back to the circle to end things.

"It felt great to win, but the last two ground balls hit to me, I was really emotional," Fullwood said. "Our motto (is) 'finish' and we finished."

The game's dizzying ebb and flow produced 19 hits, three errors, and at least one run in each inning. The 17 total runs were the second-most scored in a state final, according to the Florida High School Athletic Association.

Bartow had a 4-2 lead after three innings and already had chased Dwyer when 64-year-old Chiefs coach Bob Diez was asked during a between-innings interview if Fullwood could deliver another clutch effort as she did in Friday's semifinals against Cooper City.

"I said, 'Absolutely,' " Diez said.

He then was asked if his team could come back.

"I said, 'Stick around, you're going to see something good because we're going to hit the ball,' " he added.

Two innings later, a pair of Bartow errors set up catcher Lindsey Hagberg's three-run double, highlighting a four-run fifth inning and tying the score at 6. Fullwood's two-out RBI double in the sixth tied the score again, this time at 7.

Bartow took an 8-7 lead in the bottom of the sixth on Tonee Fabrizi's RBI double.

Then in the seventh, with no one in the bleachers sitting down, Gonzalez stepped up again.

"That was absolutely amazing," Chiefs shortstop Bianka Bell said. "I'm glad my team stepped up and did it for us."

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