There wasn’t too much coach Joey Long could have been disappointed with Friday night.
For the past four months, Long watched his Mid-Carolina softball team work its way to the school’s first state championship appearance. The Rebels didn’t get the storybook ending he and his team hoped for after Chesterfield defeated Mid-Carolina, 8-3, in front of a standing room-only crowd at Carolina Softball Stadium to win the deciding game of the Class 2A championship series.
Still, Long reflected on the journey and the way his team inspired the tight-knight Prosperity community during the championship run.
“They showed us with a police escort and the community just bonded,” Long said. “Getting behind these girls and Mid-Carolina softball has been unbelievable.”
Following the game, Long gathered his team in left field. The players all sat on the ground in a circle and reflected on the team’s history-making season that included a pair of wins over defending state champion Gray Collegiate in the Upper State finals.
“I told them to remember the atmosphere, remember the feeling and what it feels like to be here and let’s get back,” Long said. “These kids just battled for each other. We showed we are a family and made the community of Mid-Carolina and Newberry County proud.”
Like Mid-Carolina, Chesterfield also is a small, close community that hadn’t won a softball championship since 2012 when current coach Christian Lisenby (formerly Stokes) was an all-state shortstop for the Rams before going on to an all-SEC career at Kentucky.
Stokes, who is in her fifth season as head coach, was part of three championship teams during her high school career under coach Freddie Gaskins. This year, she brought back Gaskins to assist with the team.
“I always loved softball and wanted to come back to the Chesterfield community and give back to so many people that gave to me,” Lisenby said. “Freddie was a big part of my career early on and I asked him to come back and coach with me this year, and I am so glad he did.
“.... I knew from the start this was a really special group and we had the talent. But I am so proud of them the way they played through and played like a team.”
Stokes’ players said she told them about winning championships as a player. This year’s Chesterfield team was glad to get one of its own.
“They tell stories all the time about how amazing it was to win, compete in state championships and have our backs against the wall like we did,” shortstop Kaylee Eubanks said. “It is awesome to know that we repeated history.”
Mid-Carolina won the series opener, 5-3, on Monday before the Rams bounced back with a 6-1 win Wednesday.
The 1,277-seat Carolina Softball Stadium that’s home to the USC Gamecocks was filled almost an hour before game time. Both teams fed off the fans’ energy in warmups. Chesterfield pitcher Caitlyn Gibson said the big crowd gave her a lot of nerves early on in the game.
Chesterfield jumped on top of Mid-Carolina ace Amber Hughes with three runs in the first inning, two coming on Eubanks’ home run. Eubanks was 2-for-2 in the game and also made an outstanding diving catch to rob the Rebels of a hit.
Mid-Carolina answered with one run each in the second and third innings. Anna Marie Milstead had an RBI single in the second and Hughes had an RBI double in the third. Hughes led the team with three hits.
Mid-Carolina also had a few base-running mistakes in the third that kept them from a potential bigger inning. The Rebels had two runners thrown out at the plate in the game.
“We were trying to be aggressive and catch back up, but it didn’t work out for us,” Long said.
The Rams broke the game open with four runs in the bottom of the fourth to take an 8-2 lead.
Kai Pace led Chesterfield with three hits and an RBI. Gibson and Grayce Rhyne each had two hits.