FAYETTEVILLE - There has always been a winning tradition when it comes to the Harmony Grove Lady Cardinals softball program. Winner of three state titles since the millennium, the Lady Cardinals have been geared back up and loaded to win a few more coming into the 2013 season.
After pummeling their opponents in the regular season, the Lady Cardinals continued their dominance in the state tournament, blowing through to the finals while allowing just one run in three games. Set to battle Lavaca, the No. 1 seed from Region 1, Harmony Grove took a while to wake up, but finally prevailed to a 2-1 victory and fourth state championship.
â€śIt is always great and wonderful to win state,â€ť four-time champion Head Coach Sammi Massey said. â€śI am just so proud of the girls and the way they fought and never quit. That was a tough game and we struggled to hit. We havenâ€™t struggled at the plate all season.â€ť
Winners of 31 games coming into the finals, Harmony Grove used great pitching from now 24-0 starter Kristen Dempsey to shut down the Lady Golden Arrows for nearly the entire game.
Lavaca started the game off strong, walking to lead off and getting a hit to follow with no outs. Thanks to a strong arm from Molly White in right field, Harmony Grove had the games first out on a throw out tag at third. Dempsey escaped unscathed forcing a foul out to catcher Faith Otts and a pop out to Holly Drombetta to end the inning.
Drombetta got the Lady Cardinals started in the bottom half with a leadoff double, but was stranded after three straight outs.
Dempsey continued to pitch well, sitting the Lady Golden Arrows down in order in the second, third and fourth innings before allowing a hit to lead off the fifth, but getting three straight outs to end the mild threat.
Despite Dempseyâ€™s performance in the circle, the bats were still quiet. The Lady Cardinals got another hit in the second, this time a double from White, before going in order in the third, getting a hit in the fourth and going 1-2-3 in the fifth.
After a highly anticipated pitcherâ€™s duel, the sixth was full of excitement. At least for Lavaca. After back-to-back bunt singles to start the inning, the Lady Golden Arrows had the first lead of the game, scoring on an RBI single from Erica Shooster. Dempsey and the rest of the Lady Cardinals escaped via the 6-4 double play to end the inning with Lavaca leading 1-0.
With the game on the line and just six outs to get something going, Harmony Grove wasted no time before tying the game in the sixth. With Drombetta and the top of the lineup due up, Harmony Grove began with a leadoff double from Drombetta, followed by a strikeout from Laura Britt to put two on with one out and powerful freshman LJ Helmich coming to the dish. Wasting little time, Helmich clobbered the first pitch resulting in an RBI game-tying double eventually scoring Drombetta. The senior had a little trouble rounding third base, crashing into the baseman hard before getting up, dusting off and walking to home plate for the tying run.
â€śThe third baseman just got in her way and they hit,â€ť Massey said.
Both girls stayed in the game after the collision.
Still with things to do, Dempsey moved Helmich to third via the sacrifice fly to put one on with two outs and White coming to the plate. With an 0-2 count, White thumped the ball for an RBI go-ahead single to put Harmony Grove up 2-1 with one inning to play.
â€śI knew we could hit her,â€ťMassey said. â€śIt was just a matter of when the girls decided they could hit her. It took us a little longer than usually, but we did it.â€ť
Needing just three outs to become state champions, the Lady Cardinals put together strong defense and a second double play to end the game and the season on a high note. After getting a ground out and allowing a hit, Dempsey forced Abby Manning to line back to her, catching the runner on first in no manâ€™s land for the third and final out of the game.
The win gives Harmony Grove itâ€™s 32nd win of the year and itâ€™s fourth state title in school history. The Lady Cardinals finish 2013 with five championships after winning the 5-3A conference and district title, the Woodlawn Tournament, the Region 2 Regional and now the state title.
â€śI couldnâ€™t be prouder of this group of girls,â€ť Massey said. â€śthey are a special group and have been a joy to coach.â€ť
Drombetta, Helmich and White led Harmony Grove with 2 for 3 showings at the plate. White ended with the game-winning RBI to score Helmich for the win.
Dempsey finishes the season at 24-0 after allowing one run on six hits and struck out four.
â€śShe has pitched so well all season long,â€ť Massey said. â€śboth of my pitchers have.â€ť
Helmich also pitches for the Lady Cardinals.
Harmony Grove returns everyone but Britt and White in 2014, raising the question if the Lady Cardinals do it again next year.
â€śEvery year is different,â€ť Massey said. â€śWe will just have to wait and see.â€ť
Dempsey was named the Most Valuable Player of the 3A State Tournament.