State Champions!

West Union traveled to Jackson last Saturday determined to pick up their first state championship in slow-pitch softball. Still burned from their last appearance in 2007 that saw them go down two games to one to Bogue Chitto, an experienced Lady Eagle squad featuring eight seniors took on West Lincoln. The Lady Bears are also seasoned with  seven seniors and were runners-up in 2008, falling to Smithville. With the stage set for a memorable championship, West Union did not disappoint, taking the first game, 14-3 in five innings.

Neither team scored in the first inning, but the Lady Eagles exploded offensively with five runs in both the second and third innings. Rachel Baker leadoff the second with a double followed by RBI triples from April Rollins and Leah Paige Goolsby. An error at first base scored the third run, and a double by Danielle Taylor and a sacrifice by Claire Wilkerson put West Union in the lead.

The third inning saw all Lady Eagles at the plate with Kimberly Jumper and Robyn Taylor starting with back-to-back singles. A double by Rollins brought in two runs, and after a flyout, West Union had four straight hits, including a double by Claire Wilkerson to extend their lead to 10-0.

West Lincoln loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth and brought in three runs off a single by Kayla Beth Rushing, but West Union would get those runs back quickly, scoring four in the bottom half off three hits, taking the game one win.

Rollins went 3-for-3 in the first game, while Baker and Goolsby each had two hits.

“You’re gotta love April. Two years ago she didn’t get to play in this game because she tore her ACL. We really missed her, but this year she came out determined to make something happen. We put our bats together like we have the last month, and that’s awesome. Especially as a coach, you don’t have to do a lot of coaching when you score 14 runs,” West Union head coach Andy Kirk said.

Game two was a different story, as each team posted one run apiece in the opening inning, but lost their bats soon after. Sparked by a solo homerun by Kimberly Jumper with two outs in the sixth, West Union rolled off three straight hits and picked up one more run to lead 4-2.

“We were just sitting there knowing at any time we could score runs. We weren’t going through the motions, but we had a mental lapse and not hitting well. It takes only one person to get a good hit, and it’s amazing how the momentum can swing. When she hit that homerun, the momentum just shifted, and it happened at a great time. I was afraid we were about to go to 1-1,” Kirk said.

West Lincoln cut the deficit to one in the bottom of the sixth on a bases loaded single by Katie Mullins, but the Lady Eagles opened the seventh with back-to-back singles by Julianna Garner and Danielle Taylor, and Claire Wilkerson brought in the first run of the inning. West Union scored three more in the inning, sealing the series sweep and capturing the state championship.

Robyn Taylor, Garner and Danielle Taylor each had two hits in the second game to lead West Union offensively. Rachel Baker also had an impressive showing in the series, as the pitcher allowed no walks despite the windy weather.

“With the wind blowing today, Rachel Baker, awesome,” Kirk said. “She had to pitch into the wind with the side wind, and that’s tough for a pitcher, especially when she had umpires she’s never had before, and she did a tremendous job.”

The championship is Kirk’s first as a head coach, but he has picked up several as an assistant at New Albany and two-second place finishes.

“It’s as sweet as I thought it would be. It’s really special, and it’s a special group of girls. We’ve put in a lot of hard work, a lot of time in the weight room, a lot of time on the field and to see it come out like this is special,” Kirk said. “This is West Lincoln’s second year over here, and them and Bogue Chitto are just traditionally good teams from the south. I give them credit for not giving up. They fought us so hard in the second game, and that’s a credit to their coaching staff.”

The scene at the end of the day at the V.A. Fields was one of true jubilation as the eight seniors were able to erase the bad memories of two season ago and leave picking up the state championship they have worked so hard for while allowing Kirk to finish his softball coaching career on top.