By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
SMITHVILLE – Jeremy Duke couldn’t say enough about Claire McNeese.
With the game on the line and Myrtle High pitching around power-hitter Breanna Edgeworth, his freshman cleanup hitter came through with a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh to give Smithville High a 27-24 come-from-behind victory in Thursday’s decisive Game 3 of a MHSAA Class 1A slow-pitch softball state semifinals series.
“Claire McNeese came in in clutch situations after they walked Breanna several times, and she just got base hit after base hit after base hit,” said Duke, whose Lady Seminoles advanced to play in today’s state championship series against Stringer. “And then she hit the walkoff grand slam to end the third one.
“So, I can’t say enough about Claire. She did a really good job tonight of stepping up after they walked Breanna.”
When Edgeworth wasn’t walked intentionally in the series, she smashed four home runs. Edgeworth went back to back with Meagan Whitehead in the bottom of the first in Game 3.
Edgeworth was issued five free passes in the three-game series.
“Claire McNeese really stepped up to the plate and did a great job behind her (Edgeworth),” Duke said. “So, I’m proud of that and I hope that works out for us this weekend.”
Meanwhile, the same could be said for Myrtle’s leadoff hitter, Meshay Cox. Cox laced four homers, including a grand slam that lifted the Lady Hawks to a 23-16 lead entering the last half of the sixth.
Kiana Judon added two more homers for Myrtle, and Aspriona Gilbert got into the act as well.
Lane Kennedy homered to lead off the Lady Seminoles’ five-run sixth inning in Game 3.
Both teams combined for 13 homers in the series.
“When you start walking people, a lot of times it’s situational,” Duke said about issuing intentional walks to both squads’ power hitters. “If there’s a base open and one of those girls comes up that can hit a home run, we’ll walk her to set up forces on bags and just hope for the best.
“The top four right there for them (in Myrtle’s lineup) can hit home runs at any time. And you do what you think you’re supposed to and hope it works out. And if it doesn’t, then who knows?”
Duke also had high praise for pitcher Ashtyn Hensley, who came on in relief of Edgeworth in the third inning of Game 2.
“I can’t say enough about Ashtyn, either,” said the Lady Seminoles coach. “Ashytn did a great job of coming in and throwing strikes when Breanna wasn’t.
“And at the plate she had three hits in Game 3.”
Overall, Duke said he thought McNeese and Hensley had “awesome” performances – McNeese at the dish and Hensley on the mound – to lead the Seminoles to the state finals.