Good to the last play: Cougars claim state title with two runs on final pitch

Here’s the aftermath of the tying and winning runs scoring for Southwestern Randolph on the final play of the Class 2-A softball state championship series. (Bob Sutton / Randolph Record)

GREENSBORO – Madelyn Smith’s dash from first base to home plate that sent Southwestern Randolph’s softball team to a Class 2A state championship came amid chaos on the final play of the season.

It created more mayhem in terms of a celebration for the Cougars, who won the program’s first title in 14 years.

“We have this saying, ‘Why not us?’ ” said third baseman Kami Dunn, who took that theme to another level. “Why does this have to go another game?”

It didn’t. The best-of-3 final ended with Southwestern Randolph’s dramatic 3-2 victory against Midway in Game 2, with the tying and winning runs coming on the same play with two outs in the bottom of the seventh at UNC Greensboro.

“I really can’t compare the feeling with anything else,” said Cougars pitcher Macie Crutchfield, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the finals.

A postseason full of tight games and tense moments came down to this.

“That’s just Southwest softball,” coach Toby Strider said. “There’s no quit in this group.”

Southwestern Randolph fans were thrilled with the final play Saturday. (Bob Sutton / Randolph Record)

The winning rally came in the heat of the afternoon sun. Hayleigh Thompson reached on a one-out single, with Sara-Kate Marion summoned to pinch run. After the second out, Smith singled, putting runners at first and second.

Then it was Dunn’s turn. She drilled the ball past shortstop Kiley Ives, with Marion racing in from second base and beating the throw to the plate.

“Get down, get down. Score,” Marion said of what she heard.

But the freshman wasn’t aware that the ball got away from catcher Mollie Bass. Smith wasn’t slowing down.

“We work on base running every day,” Strider said. “It was a reaction.”

For Smith, she had one thing in mind.

“I didn’t ignore Toby, but I’m going to go,” she said. “This is our chance.”

Marion was elated to have scored the tying run, but then “I didn’t know she was coming,” she said of Smith.

Meanwhile, Dunn had done more than she realized.

“Oh yes, I just tied up the ball game,” she said of her initial reaction. “By the time I got to second base, I was crying. I was so happy.”

Southwestern Randolph’s players were excited as they lined up for postgame handshakes Saturday. (Bob Sutton / Randolph Record)

It was hard to comprehend. The Cougars scored one run through six-plus innings and were down to their last out.

“Next thing you know, it’s over,” said Strider, whose team won three one-run games in the playoffs.

Southwestern Randolph’s 13-0 blasting of Midway in five innings Friday night in Game 1 lacked drama, and some Cougars fans mentioned that to players. By late Saturday afternoon on the UNCG campus, there was no shortage of suspense and elation.

“This got them out of their seats,” Smith said.

The stress built in Game 2. Midway left 10 runners on base.

“More pressure,” Crutchfield said. “But I think we do really good under pressure.”

For Marion, it seemed unreal.

“It’s just that we won states (my) first year,” she said.

Midway (21-5) scored the first run in the top of the fourth. In the bottom of the inning, courtesy runner Ryleigh Hineline came home on Micah Wilson’s groundout to knot the score.

The Raiders used three consecutive one-out singles, capped by Tamia Gwynn’s liner to center field, to go ahead 2-1 in the sixth.

In Game 1, Midway had only one batter – Gwynn with a bunt single – with a hit off Crutchfield. The Raiders lost for the first time since April 25.

For the championship series, Maddie Strider, Alyssa Harris, Crutchfield and Dunn all were credited with four hits for the Cougars. Strider drove in five runs in Game 1.

Midway, also the 2023 state runner-up, remains without a state championship.

Here are members of the Southwestern Randolph softball state champions. (Bob Sutton / Randolph Record)
By Bob Sutton