VERO BEACH The Freedom High softball team stepped into uncharted territory Wednesday night, making its state final four debut amongst a group of teams accustomed to playing on big stages.
Their opponent in the Class 7A state semifinals, Tallahassee Chiles, was making its second consecutive state final four appearance.
But despite all the odds against them, including a Division I All-American pitcher, the Patriots’ extended their fairy tale season another day when in the bottom of the eighth inning, junior outfielder Ashley Wilson hit a 3-2 pitch over the left centerfield fence for a walk-off home run to give the Patriots a 1-0 victory.
The Patriots, who before this season had never played past a district tournament semifinal game, will face Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in the state championship tonight at 7:05 p.m.
“I saw it inside and I saw it coming and I swung as hard as I could,” Wilson. “I felt like I had it when I saw it.”
The home run was Wilson’s fourth of the season.
“I felt it,” Wilson said. “I felt like it was a really good hit.”
Wilson had both of Freedom’s hits against Samantha Martin, Chiles’ star pitcher, who finished with 11 strikeouts. Wilson hit a double in the third inning, but was caught trying to advance to third.
Senior Katlin Hall (10-3) and Grace Street combined on the win on the mound for Freedom, holding the Timberwolves (23-8) to five hits with four strikeouts. Chiles, which averaged nearly six runs per game this season, left six runners on base.
“We definitely knew it was going to be a tough game and we wanted to keep their runners from advancing to extra bases and we managed it,” said Hall, who came in to relieve Street in the fifth inning. “We got the shutout. What more can you ask for?”
In the top of the sixth inning, Wilson made the defensive play of the game. With runners on first and second and one out, Wilson, a left fielder, caught a would-be triple near the fence, then threw a runner out at second for the double play to end the inning.
“I can’t even describe how happy I am for our team and what this is doing for our program and our school,” Wilson said. “I’m so excited for us in (the title game).”
The Patriots (22-3) have come to show a flair for the dramatic. Just a few days ago, Freedom’s Caroline Whiteside hit a grand slam in the top of the seventh inning against Sarasota to usher the team into the state final four.
“Every game recently seems to be some dramatic ending,” Freedom coach Autum Hernandez said. “The kids keep fighting. We played great defense tonight. They got runners on first and second with no outs and a runner on third in the top of the eighth and we were able to not let any runs across the plate and that was huge for us.”