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Lewisville downs McBee 2-0, heads to school's first-ever state title series

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By Travis Jenkins

They did charge the mound and jumped up and down for a minute, but other than that Lewisville acted as it always does following a game. They shook their opponents’ hands, then huddled around Coach Jerry Thomas. There was a celebration, but it was a muted one.

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“That’s because we don’t feel like we’ve really accomplished anything yet,” said pitcher Chloe Thomas.

After knocking on the door for five straight years, the Lady Lions kicked it down Friday, advancing to the Class A state softball championship with a 2-0 victory over McBee in the upperstate finals. The game was the fourth match-up of the two teams this season. An early contest was an 11-0 Lewisville runaway, but the previous two games were close (2-0 and 4-1) pitching duals and Friday’s showdown followed suit. Claflin-bound McBee hurler Shaniya Thomas and Lewisville pitcher Chloe Thomas (a Limestone College signee) combined to allow one earned run and just three hits while striking out a combined 15 batters.

As it turns out, Lewisville got all the runs it would need in the first inning. Shaniya Thomas fanned the first two batters she faced, but Chloe Thomas went the other way with one, ripping a shot just inside the right field line that made it to the fence. She had an easy triple, but a late throw got away from Lady Panthers third baseman Bella Johnson. That allowed the run to score and Lewisville led 1-0.

Chloe Thomas issued two walks in the first two innings. That wouldn’t qualify as news for most pitchers, but those represented her seventh and eighth walks of the season in more than 200 innings pitched.

“She was probably a little too hyped up,” Jerry Thomas said. “I told her not to think about it and to just relax.”

It’s entirely possible she was trying to purge the memories of how Lewisville’s season ended in 2017 or insure that the outcome would be different this time around. The Lady Lions were in the exact same position last season, hosting the upperstate title game and having to be beaten twice to be denied a trip to state. Last year, Dixie came to Richburg and won a pair of one-run games to stun the Lady Lions and end their season. That wouldn’t happen this year thanks to a team effort.

When McBee got its lone base hit of the game on a bunt single, Amber Bass made a big defensive play one batter later, making an over-the-shoulder catch at the fence in foul territory for a big out. Johnson then came to the plate and launched a shot deep to center field that had a chance to either get out or at least get down for a game-tying hit. Instead, Riley Coyle backpedaled and calmly made a catch just shy of the fence to end the inning. In the sixth. Lewisville’s lone error of the night put a runner at first with two outs and the next batter hit what looked like a seeing-eye single. Instead, second baseman Codi Horne made a diving stop and perfect throw to first base from her back for the inning-ending out.

Lewisville got runners aboard in the second and third innings but stranded them there. They did manage an important insurance run in the fifth. Lauren Crocker was hit by a pitch with one out and Alexis Odum followed by drawing a walk. Bass attempted to bunt the runners over, but McBee was able to pounce on the ball and make a sharp throw to third to cut down the lead runner for the second out. Odum and Bass moved up on a wild pitch, though, and Odum (who signed with USC-Union Friday afternoon) scored on a passed ball to build the lead to 2-0.

Chloe Thomas got McBee in order in the seventh to end the game.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Chloe Thomas said. “It’s like a dream.

She added, though, that winning upperstate is only part of the journey, not the ultimate destination for she and her teammates.

“Winning upperstate has been a huge hump for us to get over. This doesn’t really mean anything, though,” she said.

After having their season ended in the upperstate title bracket five straight years, Lewisville finally advanced to the school’s first softball state title series. Jerry Thomas took over the program at a point in time when Lewisville was struggling to finish fourth in its region and make the playoffs. The team showed gradual improvement in his first two years before really taking off in the past six seasons.

“It took a while to establish a wining culture again,” he said.

Chloe Thomas said that culture has fully taken hold. The team has not lost to a fellow Class A team this year, falling only to AAAA powerhouse Hartsville and three large out-of-state schools.

“We lost to a team from Virginia (nine-time defending state champion Greenbrier Academy) in the spring break tournament. Some lady said we should proud that we played so close to them and I was like ‘No, I’m not proud to lose.’ I never am. We go on the field expecting to win every game. When we lost to Hartsville, that bothered me for a couple of days,” she said.

Jerry Thomas said he wants his team to enjoy its accomplishment and didn’t mind a brief celebration Friday. They can have a longer one if they win state, he said.

Lewisville, now 25-4, will face East Clarendon for the Class A state title. The best two-out-of-three series begins Monday at East Clarendon. Game two is scheduled to be played at Lewisville Wednesday. Game three, if necessary, would be played on a neutral field.