BENTON — Tuckerman was down but hardly out in the final two innings of Thursday’s Class 2A state softball championship game.
The Lady Bulldogs scored two runs to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, then plated the game-winning run on Kenzie Soden’s one-out single in the seventh to defeat Mansfield 4-3 at Lady Panther Field.
Tuckerman coach Matt Dillon joyously trailed Ansley Dawson down the third base line as the Lady Bulldogs (29-4) started their celebration.
“There’s no words to describe this right now,” said Dillon, whose team erased a four-run deficit against Spring Hill in the semifinals to reach Thursday’s game. “All year long, we’ve battled and battled and battled. We’ve gotten down, we just find ways to win the game.
“You dream about it as a coach. Every summer you go into the next year and you dream about it, ‘Let’s get to the state finals, let’s just get there.’ I have no words for this. This is incredible.”
Tuckerman’s winning rally began when Dawson reached base on an error to start the Lady Bulldog seventh. Dawson moved to second on a passed ball and made an alert base-running move to reach third base.
With Dawson on second, Shanley Williams hit a foul popup that Mansfield’s catcher and third baseman pursued, leaving third base uncovered.
The two Lady Tigers collided as the catcher went to third base, giving Dawson an opening to go to third.
“That’s not me, that’s all that girl right there, “ Dillon said, motioning to Dawson. “That’s Ansley Dawson, just heads up, seeing a foul ball over here and she’s tagging up.”
That set the stage for Soden, the second batter in Tuckerman’s lineup. She took a 2-1 pitch to left field and Dawson sprinted home to end the game.
“I could hardly make it to first base, I was so excited,” Soden said. “I was just trotting.”
Tuckerman opened the scoring in the first inning on Gracie Smith’s RBI triple, but the Lady Bulldogs’ bats then went quiet against the Lady Tigers’ Alyson Edwards. Mansfield (19-5) took a 2-1 lead in the second inning on Brooklyn Adams’ two-run single.
Edwards’ leadoff home run extended Mansfield’s lead to 3-1 in the fifth, but Tuckerman starting pitcher Makaylie Gist retired the next three batters and worked a perfect sixth as well.
“I knew when the momentum went our way, we definitely had it, especially when Makaylie got those three outs after they hit that home run,” Soden said. “That was big, huge.”
Smith reached on an error to start Tuckerman’s sixth-inning rally, then moved to second on Williams’ groundout and took third on a wild pitch. Gist drew a walk to put runners on the corners.
Mansfield threw the ball into center field as pinch runner Julie Glasgow stole second base, allowing Smith to score. Glasgow took third on the play and scored on Lizzy Walker’s two-out single past the pitcher, tying the game 3-3.
With the top of Mansfield’s order coming to the plate in the top of the seventh, Dillon opted to replace Gist with Soden in the circle, a frequent move this season for the Lady Bulldogs.
“She throws a lot of strikes and gets a lot of outs,” Dillon said. “I didn’t want Makaylie to see the order the fourth time and so it was time. We’ve done it all year long.”
Gist struck out six while walking one and allowing six hits in six innings.
Smith, Soden and Walker accounted for the Lady Bulldogs’ hits. Dillon said he was confident Soden would finish the game when Dawson reached third base.
“She’s just been hitting. She hits and she hits and she hits,” Dillon said. “I knew that once we got that runner there, she was going to bring it in. I just knew it.”