VERO BEACH — Final exams started Thursday at Canterbury School of Florida. For the nine seniors on the school's softball team, a bigger test was looming.
The Crusaders, who made the state semifinals for the fifth straight season, advanced to the Class 2A state title game at Historic Dodgertown. Once again, Canterbury faced Monticello Aucilla Christian (18-9), the team that knocked off the Crusaders in the semifinals each of the past two seasons.
This time, the Crusaders got past their nemesis.
In the ninth inning, Canterbury shortstop Taylor Bump, a Michigan signee, smacked a ball up the middle for what turned out to be the winning hit in a 2-1 victory.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team," Bump said.
By winning, the Crusaders (25-7) also made history. They became the first bay area softball program to win four state titles, surpassing Palm Harbor University. The Hurricanes, who are playing in the Class 9A state semifinals, have a chance to tie that record.
Bump and fellow senior Danielle Romanello (a Florida recruit) knew what it was like to win titles. They were starters as eighth-graders and freshmen when the Crusaders won consecutive state championships in 2013-14.
Back then, Canterbury was a juggernaut in 2A, routinely winning against overmatched competition by 10 or more runs.
But the landscape changed. Teams improved, none more so than Aucilla Christian.
The Warriors had stymied the Crusaders' high-powered offense in the past two semifinals thanks to a pair of Division I-A-bound pitchers, Abigail Morgan (Florida Atlantic) and Elizabeth Hightower (Florida).
Morgan started Thursday's championship game and held Canterbury scoreless through three innings. In the fourth, she loaded the bases, prompting a pitching change. Hightower came on in relief. The power pitcher got Ashley Campbell to pop up, but the ball ricocheted off an outfielder's glove, allowing Bump to score the tying run.
The Crusaders managed only four hits, all coming from Bump, Campbell and Romanello.
Campbell, a senior who transferred to the program two years ago, started on the mound. She allowed 10 hits. The only one that caused any damage was a solo homer Campbell gave up in the second inning.
She was backed by a stellar defense that committed no errors and turned in two highlight-worthy double plays.
"I knew my defense would have my back," Campbell said. "They've been doing it all season."
Both teams left runners stranded, extending the game into extra innings. Last-minute dramatics in title games have become Canterbury's specialty.
The Crusaders won their first state title in 2011 when Kelsey Hill beat a tag at home for the winning — and only — run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Two years later, Canterbury thought it had thrown a state title away with two errors that allowed the tying and winning runs to score in the eighth inning. That was, until the umpire overturned the call on an appeal and issued a dead ball on an overthrow. Given new life, the Crusaders held on to win.
Thursday was another nail-biter.
Trystan Simone drew a walk in the ninth inning. Madison Fine followed by reaching on an error to get runners on second and third.
Bump was up next.
Before she went to the plate, she talked to Romanello.
"I knew it was over before Taylor even stepped into the box," Romanello said. "She has been so clutch for five years but especially this year."
Her mind cleared, Bump made contact. Soon after, the celebration began.
The good times continue for the seniors next week at graduation.
"You better believe I'm going to wear this state medal with my cap and gown," Bump said.
Contact Bob Putnam at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.