Miami Coral Reef’s dream softball season was teetering on the brink of epic failure.
Down to its last out, Weston Cypress Bay cut the Barracudas’ seemingly secure five-run lead to one in the top of the seventh.
Coral Reef senior Dayna Wilson picked the perfect time to throw a rare strikeout.
Wilson struck out pinch-hitter Monika Garabedian for her second strikeout of the tournament, completing Coral Reef’s first state championship season with a 5-4 victory in the Class 8A final Sunday morning at the Vero Beach Sports Village.
Coral Reef (28-2), a school that opened in 1997, won its first state title in a girls’ sport and dealt Cypress Bay (21-6) its second state runner-up finish.
It was the first state championship game pitting Miami-Dade and Broward County teams since Miramar Everglades beat Miami Palmetto in the 2007 Class 6A final. The other came in 2004 when Southwest Miami beat Cypress Bay.
Wilson, who picked up both pitching victories at the state tournament, was at the heart of a wild celebration after the final out and later held the championship trophy while hearing the loud chants of her first name from her teammates, Coral Reef parents, coaches and fans.
“I’m not a strikeout pitcher,” Wilson said. “Everything was there [in that last at-bat]. If [Garabedian] hits there, we probably lose and it’s all over. I couldn’t let that happen. I have my team’s back just like they always have mine.”
The game was moved to Sunday morning because of inclement weather Saturday.
Unusual conditions were nothing new to Coral Reef this season.
The Bararacudas played their regional semifinal against Palmetto at two sites in one day due to weather. Players overcame obstacles such as shortstop Kylan Becker playing with a broken nose before the playoffs. First baseman Lauren Blanco left in the middle of the team’s regional final midgame to take a test for one of her honors courses.
“Being in every experience you can think of this season prepared us for this,” Coral Reef coach Dario Rodriguez said. “This was just one more step and one more learning experience.”
Wilson (20-2) threw a nine-inning shutout Friday in the semifinals against Orlando Timber Creek and kept Cypress Bay from doing any significant damage until the seventh with a mix of precise location.
“She located real well and had good spin on the ball,” Cypress Bay leadoff hitter Lexi DiEmmanuele said. “That’s what it’s all about even more than strikeouts. Softball is a game of inches, and small plays and small inches beat us [Sunday].”
While Wilson was effective, typically dominant Cypress Bay pitcher Sarah Maloney did not have her best stuff. Coral Reef took advantage, scoring five runs in the first two innings. Coral Reef opened the inning with four consecutive singles, including an RBI by third baseman Carsyn Gordon. Catcher Sarah Ortiz was hit by a pitch to force in a run, and Blanco walked to drive in another.
In the second inning, second baseman Denver Keller crushed a pitch to right center field to drive in two more runs that would prove to be the difference in the game.
“I knew with two runners on I had to be clutch there,” Keller said. “We knew they’d fight hard to come back.”
Cypress Bay coach Lonny Shapiro subbed in Courtney Methven to pitch for Maloney in the third after a leadoff walk. Methven did not give up a run and allowed two hits in three relief innings.
“We knew if we could start a rally early and get a lot of hits, she’d be done,” Gordon said. “We watched their other game, and we had faced her before in travel ball.”
In the seventh, following an infield single by Lily Pruneda and a walk to Shannon McMullen, DiEmmanuele grounded into a fielder’s choice, leaving Cypress Bay with runners at first and third and two outs.
Wilson worked an 0-2 count to Maggie Scott, but the next pitch missed the plate for a ball. Scott then lined the next offering to right field to break the shutout. Maddie Gott followed with an RBI single to make it 5-2.
Olivia Gott got Cypress Bay to the brink of tying the score when she dropped a ball inside the right-field line for a triple that scored two more.
Coral Reef’s brilliant infield defense kept Cypress Bay from scoring earlier. Twice Cypress Bay lined into double plays. Gordon snared a line drive from Cypress Bay third baseman Maddie Wideman in the second inning and quickly tagged out Maloney at third. In the fifth, Becker quickly grabbed a line drive and threw to Gordon to double up another Cypress Bay runner.
“We always tell Dayna that she just needs to pitch to her strengths and we’ll take care of the rest,” Becker said. “We do our best to help her out.”