E.A. Sports Today

Dramatic finish

Jefferson (S.C.) scores 3 in bottom of fifth to win Dixie Darlings World Series, waits out a post-game protest before celebrating

Jefferson, S.C.’s Alayna Cassidy races around third on her way to scoring the World Series-winning run in the bottom of the fifth inning Wednesday. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

By Al Muskewitz/East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – The Jefferson (S.C.) Darlings had one of the highest-scoring teams in all of this year’s Dixie Softball World Series and they needed every run they could muster and every inning they could play to win their championship Wednesday.

Jefferson pushed across three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning – and six in their final two bats – to rally past Wahneta (Fla.) 6-5 to win their league’s first World Series title. It’s the sixth year in a row a team from the Palmetto State has taken a Series crown back home and the first in Darlings (8U) since Dillion in 2015.

“This is real big for our town,” manager Anthony Cassidy said. “It’s something I don’t think we’ve ever accomplished.

“The girls have practiced and given their all the past two, three months. They’re a hard bunch. They never quit.”

The champions scored 72 runs in their five-game sweep; they scored 27 and 18 in their first two games. They beat Wahneta 7-1 in the bracket’s battle of unbeatens, but Wednesday was a different story.

“This Florida team had a good defense. It was a battle,” Cassidy said. “I’m just glad the girls got to accomplish this.”

Alayna Cassidy raced home with the winning run in the bottom of the fifth, but it was about a half-hour later before the winners could truly celebrate the victory.

Wahneta lodged a protest over a play in the deciding inning that appeared to result in a force out at second that would have put the Floridians one out away from forcing a winner-take-all second game. 

Jefferson’s Maddox Barefoot hit a liner to pitcher Anali Gonzalez who dropped the ball, but she had the presence to throw to second baseman Briana Thomason in what appeared to be plenty of time to force Hannah Amerson who froze at first on the liner. 

The ball entered the circle, which apparently killed the play. The runners were returned to their bases and play continued continue with one out. Page 71 of the 2020-21 Dixie Softball rulebook deals with balls hit to the player-pitcher in the circle in Darlings play. There are five pages in the book dealing with protests.

Wahneta coaches claimed their attempts to call time and announce their intention to protest were denied. They did lodge a protest after the game that was later denied by the tournament protest committee without comment.

“I feel like we should’ve been able to speak to the umpires,” Wahneta manager Shayla Glover said. “We all should’ve been in the same room because they allowed the umpires to say we did not protest that call. We called time out three times on that same play. Even the other team agreed we called time out; they agreed with the entire call. They said it was a game changer.

“The protest was denied without sufficient investigation. I initiated the protest with the umpire and he told me I couldn’t protest it. (The ride back to Florida) is going to be heavy because we teach our girls to make the play. If a ball is hit back to the circle and the play is at (second) there’s no way not to run to the circle to throw that ball – absolutely no way. 

“We’re going to post the live video and I hope the umpire is able to sleep at night. Even when they asked him again he said we never called time, we never protested the call. This was our first time being here. I feel like they let us down.”

Jefferson’s Cassidy said the umpires made the call, stuck with it and he was prepared to accept whatever decision tournament officials made.

“It was a good, hard game that could’ve gone either way,” he said. “I’m proud of both teams.”

Wahneta, the Intimidators, led 4-0 after two innings and 5-0 going to the bottom of the fourth. 

Meanwhile, the Jefferson players were collecting the winner’s trophy and posing for pictures.

“The girls, they never give up, the whole year,” Cassidy said. “Even when they were on the three different teams during the rec season each team fought to the end. They never give up, they stay together.”

Wahneta did take home another plaque to go with its runner-up trophy. The Intimidators were voted to receive the Darlings’ Sportsmanship Award.

To see more pictures from the title game, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

The South Carolina players race out of the dugout to congratulate Alayna Cassidy after scoring the winning run in the Dixie Darlings World Series title game. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

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