Powhatan PYAA Ponytails

PYAA Softball's Haylee Miller reacts after hitting a two-run double to send her Ponytails into the lead over Amherst in the fifth inning of Friday's opening-round state tournament game.

DILLWYN - With two outs on the board in the top of the seventh inning, Powhatan was looking at empty bases after one of their runners got picked-off at third.

Opposing Amherst had momentum on its side, having just rallied in the previous half-inning to tie the game at 2 runs apiece.

On top of it all, the blazing sun continued to bear down on Gene Dixon Sr. Memorial Park.

But as the sweltering heat refused to let up, so did the Powhatan Ponytails.

With her team facing two outs, Isabelle Chandler took a walk. Then Liza Watkins took a hit by pitch. And after a passed ball enabled the two base runners to zip into scoring position, Kaelyn Keaton - who got a hit and scored a run in her previous at-bat - stepped up to the plate.

Right before then, Keaton's head coach Sarah Beagle told her: "I need you to give me everything you've got - get it out of the infield and score two runs - that's all I need from you, right here...I just need you to get it out there."

Keaton slammed the ball into right field.

It hit the fielder's glove and fell onto the grass.

And both runners ahead of Keaton came sprinting home, propelling the Ponytails back to the point.

An RBI double from Haylee Miller soon followed, and Powhatan fended off Amherst 5-4 in the narrow nailbiter to win the opening round of the Dixie Softball youth state tournament on Friday.

"I'm proud of these girls," Beagle said. "They fought and worked really hard...happy and completely excited, and to get here and to win that game was huge."

Both teams locked each other down through a scoreless tie before Powhatan's bats finally came alive. The first three-quarters of Powhatan's batting rotation had gone down in order and only one runner reached base through the first four innings, with the two runners who did reach base getting caught stealing by Amherst's fielders. But after they twice stranded Amherst's runners on third base in the third and fourth innings with the help of two strikeouts from starting pitcher Keaton and Kaylee Cook keeping hold of a big flyout after she hit the ground with the flyball in hand, the Ponytails found their groove at the plate in the top of the fifth.

"The girls wanted it - and they fought for it," Beagle said. "They pushed through, fought for it and they worked hard, and it shows."

The Ponytails chained together three hits - a double by Isabelle Chandler, a launch by Watkins and a hit into shallow right field by Keaton - before Haylee Miller added the golden link in that chain with a laser up the middle for the two-run trip to second base, breaking a scoreless tie and putting Powhatan ahead 2-0.

Pointing to Chandler, her big hitter in districts, Beagle noted that she had a great hit to the fence, and that's all it takes - just one hit.

"Even though she got out going to third [base], the girls saw that she hit," Beagle said, "so once you see one person do it, you then know, 'Okay, I've got this! I've got this!' So that's what it takes: it takes one hit - one hit, and then just getting on base."

Amherst rallied to knot up the ballgame 2-2 with base runners beating two infield plays to plate their teammates across the fifth and sixth frames, but the Ponytails' clutch two-out, two-run team effort from Chandler, Watkins and Keaton in the top of the seventh gave Powhatan the lead once more.

And then Miller clocked another extra-base hit to send home Keaton for what would ultimately end up being the winning run. Miller finished the day batting 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and 3 RBIs.

Amherst landed an RBI double in the bottom of the seventh, and another runner, facing 2 outs, evaded a rundown with the ball getting away from Powhatan's fielders to score and chop the Ponytails' lead down to one.

But after relief pitcher Anna Yarbrough caught two pop flies in the diamond, she fielded the ball one last time and tossed the ball to first base on the 1-3 play for the final out of the game, stranding the tying base runner in scoring position, securing the pitching win in the circle and ensuring the victory for her team in the opening round.

Yarbrough pitched the remaining four innings and struck out four batters across the fifth and sixth frames.

Beagle's concern coming into states was initially the fielding; the coaches before the game emphasized to the players that pop flies were outs, and the players had to complete those outs.

The hard work that the players and coaches put into their defense in practice shone through in the game on Friday, from the lineouts caught by the infielders to the big catch made by Cook to end the fourth inning to the crucial pop flies hauled in by Yarbrough in the seventh.

Powhatan continues state tournament play against Brunswick on Saturday, June 20 at 3 p.m., once again at Gene Dixon Park in Buckingham County. Whether they win or lose, Powhatan will play again on Sunday, June 21. If they win, they'll play at 7 p.m; if they lose, they'll play an elimination game at 3 p.m.

"We're excited for Brunswick; I've watched them play a lot," Beagle said. "I'm excited to play them; that's going to be a tough battle...we just need to fight through it and do the best we can."

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