At the beginning of the season, Bethlehem Christian Academy softball coach Michael Clarke talked with his three seniors — Callie Birt, Olivia Morgan and Kaleigh Roseland — about what kind of legacy they wanted to leave behind.
As they celebrated on their home field Saturday afternoon after winning the GICAA state championship, it was apparent what that legacy would be.
The Knights, who had dominated their opponents all year long, did so again Saturday, defeating Lyndon Academy of Holly Springs 13-5 in five innings in the best-of-three series opener and then throttling the Terriers 19-2 in Game 2 to cap a perfect 17-0 season and claim the school’s first athletic team state title since the baseball program won back-to-back GISA Class A crowns in 2012 and 2013.
“No words can describe the leadership that they have shown,” Clarke said as he stood with his three seniors in the infield after the win. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do and just been great leaders in everything they’ve done. They are going to be a hard senior class to top.”
Birt, the steady first baseman in the middle of the Knights lineup, had a big hand in both wins, but especially the clincher in which she went 5-for-5 with an inside-the-park home run and drove in five runs. Still a little teary-eyed from the jubilant post-game celebration, she summed it up like this: “It’s a great way to go out.”
“There’s no other team I would have rather done it with,” added Roseland, who showcased her big arm in center on a couple of occasions and is now set to continue her softball career at Thomas University.
Morgan, a four-sport standout athlete at the school who had finished fifth in the high jump at the GISA Class AAA state meet in Albany on Friday, had been in a lot of other playoff games with the volleyball, basketball and softball teams prior to Saturday, but none of this magnitude. She went 2-for-3 with an RBI in the opener and drove in two more in the second game, ending her athletic career at BCA with a state title.
“Growing up here, this makes it seem like all the hard work was worth it,” Morgan said. “These are my girls and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I wouldn’t have wanted to play for any other school.”
The Knights’ prolific offense, which came into the series averaging more than 15 runs a contest, was dominant again Saturday, piling up 32 runs and pounding out 39 hits against Lyndon Academy pitching.
Sophomore leadoff hitter and catcher Lindzie Owen was again the chief instigator, going a combined 10-for-11 in the two games with six RBIs and hitting an inside-the-park home run in Game 1. Freshman shortstop Hannah Still had seven hits in the doubleheader, including a Game 2 inside-the-parker, and drove in eight for the day.
Game 1 was tight early on, as the teams went into the bottom of the fourth inning tied 4-4, but the Knights broke it open in the bottom of the frame with five runs. Owen gave BCA a 6-4 lead with her two-run inside-the-parker, Still added an RBI double, and two more runs crossed the plate on a throwing error by the Lyndon Academy catcher.
After the Terriers scratched out a run in the fifth, the Knights scored four more times in the bottom of the inning to end the game on a run-rule. Morgan hit an RBI single, Owen had a two-run triple and Still later singled in Owen to put a bow on the victory.
“The fourth inning has been our inning all year long,” Clarke said, “and I told the girls when it was 4-4, ‘We’ve been here before. Now let’s go win it.’”
Game 2 was required by GICAA rules to go a full seven innings with no run rule in effect. The Knights trailed 2-1 after two innings, but exploded for six runs in the third, four in the fourth and five more in the fifth to put it way out of reach.
Clancy Bourbeau, part of a strong sophomore class along with her battery mate Owen, pitched all but one of the 12 innings between the two games and was strong in Game 2, allowing the two runs on just two hits while walking five and striking out five. Mary Lyndsey Wyatt worked around a bases-loaded jam for a scoreless sixth, and then Bourbeau re-entered to record the final three outs, finishing it off with a strikeout.
It was the culmination of a strong run the last two years since BCA resurrected its softball program after a five-year hiatus, a culmination that Clarke envisioned.
“With this group, yes,” he said after being asked if he saw the team winning a state title two years in. “The leadership was there from everybody. They cared more about the team than themselves and individual stats.”
And with plenty returning next season, the Knights will be gunning for the top prize again, even as they transition to a more challenging GISA slate this fall.
“The standard has been set and we expect to be back here,” Clarke said.