CLERMONT — Faith. Trust. Togetherness.
Words that are overused when it comes to athletics but couldn’t be more appropriate when connected to the Academy of the Holy Names softball team.
Put to the test when tragedy struck in the form of a parent’s death two months ago, the Jaguars came together to rise above the devastation.
When faced with adversity in Thursday’s Class 3A state championship, just three outs from losing to standout pitcher Gracie Wallace and Windermere Prep, Holy Names held its faith and rose up.
Working through jams in the circle all game long, senior Belle Sardja let her bat do the talking when it counted the most. Driving a deep shot to centerfield that glanced off a leaping Piper Hofmann’s glove, Sardja’s third hit of the night brought home sophomore Genevieve Chiellini (leadoff single) with the tying tally. And when an errant throw on the play sailed to the backstop, sophomore Camryn Feast (who followed Chiellini with a walk) hustled home to give Holy Names its only lead of the night and a 4-3 championship victory.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Jaguars coach Jeff Krone said. “We played all year for that one-run game. We’ve walked off many games so we had faith in the top of our lineup. We couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
“I wanted to be patient, I wanted to be disciplined,” Sardja said of the fateful at-bat. “Then there was this one pitch … it was beautiful. I usually don’t swing at that pitch but something clicked inside of me. I thought it would get Genevieve to third base but it went over (Hofmann’s) head.”
All of this came after falling 2-0 behind Windermere (25-2) in the top of the first inning on Meredith Workman’s run-scoring infield out and Madison Workman’s RBI single, then suffering through three innings of no-hit ball from Wallace — the state’s leader in strikeouts (326) and tops in the nation with nine no-nos.
But Holy Names (17-5) broke through in the fifth inning, surviving strong Lakers defense to knot the score on back-to-back RBI singles from Feast and Sardja scoring freshman Maisi Sigler (first of two hit batters) and Rachael Petrarca (base hit).
With only one 1-2-3 inning all night, Sardja (14 hits allowed, six strikeouts, two walks) repeatedly worked out of trouble with her defense’s help. Catcher Chiellini picked off a Windermere runner at third in the fourth frame. Diminutive sophomore rightfielder Sophomore Amber Torres rifled a throw to catch a Laker runner trying for third, then snared a line drive to end the fifth.
But the Jags seemed to run out of luck in the top of the seventh when back-to-back-to-back two-out base hits, the last from Hofmann, put the Lakers back on top.
That’s where faith and trust found its ultimate definition.
“It’s so amazing,” Sardja said. “This is the best team I’ve ever played on, and we made history.”
And for Petrarca, it put a storybook ending on a bittersweet season.
“My dad (Nicholas) passed away unexpectedly, and the team rallied around us,” starting what would be a 13-game win streak to end the season.
“(And Thursday,) we were picking each other up, telling Belle that we trusted her to get the big outs, picking up the batters that struggled.”
Petrarca concluded: “If you told me before the season we’d win the state championship, I’d say ‘cool,’ but I wouldn’t have believed it. Our pitching was amazing and the bats came alive. It’s great to see.”
Legends Way Ball Fields, Clermont
Class 3A: Holy Names 4, Windermere Prep 3
Class 4A: Hernando 9, Plantation American Heritage 8
Class 5A: Land O’ Lakes 5, Pace 4
Class 6A: Mitchell vs. Doral Academy, 11:15 a.m. Friday
Class 4A: Hernando vs. Eustis, 4:30 p.m. Friday
Class 5A: Land O’ Lakes vs. Fort Myers, 7 p.m. Friday