When Brookely Lewis stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning of the Region 8-AA championship game vs. Union County, Tybee Denton was given first base via an intentional walk, and Lewis took that as a slight against her hitting abilities.
“I told coach (Kelby) Cronic, ‘They literally just made the biggest mistake of their life. I’m going to hit the ball so hard,’” Lewis said.
Lewis made good on the statement to her coach as she smacked the game-winning single to help Banks County claim its second region title in three seasons with a 3-2 win Wednesday night in Homer. Lewis’ single plated Lindsey Crawford, who scored from second base.
“I had one chance, because I was supposed to freaking bunt,” Lewis said. “But I said, ‘Please don’t bunt me. Please let me hit.’ (Cronic) said, ‘You have one chance,’ and I swung at the first pitch and it went right up the middle. I was literally in tears as soon as I hit the ball.”
Lewis went 2-for-4 in the game, adding a double to the game-winning hit. Lewis, a senior, joined the team as a junior. When her teammates embraced after the winning hit, she called the moment “life-changing.”
“I transferred here, I didn’t know anybody (last year), and they welcomed me from the beginning on to this team, and the fact that my senior year I got the winning hit to win region for them and they were supportive of that, whether I’ve been here my whole life or not, I still can’t explain it,” Lewis said. “It was so big, oh my gosh.”
Tybee Denton went the distance on the mound for the Leopards. Denton gave up three hits, two runs and recorded 13 strikeouts.
“It’s amazing, we’ve worked so hard,” the senior ace described. “All of the seniors, we’ve grown up together, and it’s just amazing to see us progress every year. It’s just amazing.”
Denton and Lewis are two of the team’s seven seniors.
“This one just shows that we’ve worked, because last year everything went against us,” Denton said. “We just have grown together, and we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. It’s what people expect of us.”
Denton said Lewis’ game-winning hit was “awesome” to see.
“We all have confidence in her, believe in her,” Denton said. “The dugout was up, everybody was up. We knew she had it.”
For first-year coach Kelby Cronic, Lewis’ at-bat with runners on first and second called for a bunt. But he gave her one chance to take a swing.
“She took her one chance and she did it,” Cronic said. “She’s struggled a little bit at the plate throughout the season, but she’s a great softball player. I told her, ‘You can have a bad season at the plate all year long, but when you do it when it matters most, that’s all that counts, and everybody forgets that you went 0-for-4 in a game or 0-for-3 in a game or you popped up, doesn’t matter when you come up when it counts, and you make a big play and get a big hit.’ That’s what she did tonight. I couldn’t be more happy for the kid. She’s in tears. She knew what she did.”
The Leopards trailed 2-1 entering the bottom of the fifth. Jill Martinet, however, made sure to get the team back in the game as she connected for a solo homer. Martinet finished the game 3-for-3.
“One thing about these girls is they will not give up,” Cronic said. “We’ve had situations where we’ve been down this season and they will not give up. You can’t ask for anything (more) out of your team … It’s great, I’m still a little bit in shock.
“Come in, first-year head coach, win a region championship, but I can’t take credit for that. That’s all them. I give all the credit in the world to the girls. They’ve done everything. They deserve it. It’s not me, it’s them.”
After leaving runners stranded in the first, second and third innings, the Leopards got on the board first when Jewels Ayers connected with a one-out single to centerfield in the bottom of the fourth, plating Crawford.
Just as quickly as the Leopards got the lead, though, they found themselves trailing after the top of the fifth. The Panthers scored two runs on a wild pitch, which resulted in a throwing error on the cover at home plate.
In the bottom of the fifth, Martinet hit her one-out solo shot to even the game. The Leopards left the go-ahead run on base. The Leopards left runners at second and third in the sixth, which set the stage for Lewis’ heroics.
Martinet opened the bottom of the seventh with a double to right field. She connected on a full count. Then, Denton was intentionally walked, bringing Lewis to the plate, where she hit the single up the middle to end the game.
Banks County 3, Monticello 0 (semifinals): Earlier in the day, the Leopards advanced to the finals after a 3-0 victory over Monticello. Kylee Brooks and Madison Cronic both went 2-for-3 with two singles apiece. Brooks had one RBI. Martinet had a single with two RBIs. The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth when Martinet’s single to centerfield plated Makayla Benfield and Kya Santiago. The Leopards’ final run came in the sixth when a Brooks single scored Lewis.