The Palmetto Mustangs Softball Team displays their state championship medals after winning the AA State Championship on Wednesday night against Dillon in the championship series. They defeated Dillon 1-0 in game two to capture the title. (Photo by Michael Lollis/www.lollisphotography.com)
It took almost 60 years, but it was well worth the wait!
After competing in girls athletics since 1953, Palmetto High School finally has a state championship in one of those sports.
The Lady Mustangs wrapped up their first-ever State AA Softball Championship last Wednesday evening with a 1-0 victory over Lower-State Champion Dillon.
And making that already special feat even more memorable was the fact that it came on the Lady Mustangs home field in front of the largest crowd to ever see a softball game at Palmetto.
Hundreds (to some, it looked like thousands) of fans, mostly wearing “Palmetto Red”, along with media from every newspaper and television station in the Upper-State, filled the stands (which included additional seating brought in for the game) and took up all of the remaining available space to witness history in the making.
The Pelzer-Williamston area resembled a ghost town, with few if anyone seen along the streets or in local businesses, as most of the community gathered to cheer on the hometown girls.
And they saw a game that they’ll be talking about for many years to come!
The Lady Mustangs had earned the right to be there, and were more than determined to see it through all the way to the state title.
They had finished just one game out of first-place (behind nationally-regarded Crescent) in the Skyline Conference to earn a spot in the State AA Playoffs.
They had to fight their way through the losers bracket, including winning back-to-back games at top-ranked Andrew Jackson, to win the District IV (Quarterfinals) Tournament.
Then they had to rally through the elimination rounds to win their very first Upper-State 2-A Championship by sweeping a pair of same-day road games from heavily-favored Gilbert.
That set up a best-of-three series with Lower-State Champion Dillon for the grandest prize of them all…the State 2-A Championship.
They went down to Dillon last Monday and took the first game, getting a first-pitch, over-the-centerfield-fence, eighth-inning home run from Ryan Rector to better the Lady Wildcats, 1-0.
Thus the stage was set for Wednesday’s second game in Williamston, where the local ladies had their sights firmly set on winning it all in front of their hometown fans.
Ryan Rector, the team’s standout centerfielder, said the Lady Mustangs “were the underestimated team” in the playoffs.
“We’re Palmetto, we’re from the middle of nowhere.” she added, “But we pushed through…we don’t care what people say about us.”
Rector once again stepped up and made a key play for Palmetto.
She opened the bottom of the second inning with a single.
Senior first-baseman Landon Bulloch followed with a bunt that sent Rector racing to second-base.
Seeing no one covering third, she made a quick dash to it, putting herself in prime scoring position.
“I was hoping for anything…a base hit, a passed ball,” she recalled.
And she got the break she was looking for, as highly-recruited Dillon ace Shaquailla German threw a wild pitch.
That’s all the opening Rector needed, as she raced across home plate for what would be the only run of the game.
Both teams had chances to score throughout the rest of the evening, but superb defense by each squad kept them off the scoreboard.
The Lady Wildcats had one last opportunity to tie or go ahead in the game with two runners on-base and just one out left.
Tara Grimsley sent a soft liner down the left side where Victoria Williams was waiting to make the final out.
“We didn’t want to go anywhere else,” winning pitcher Tabitha Allen pointed out, .“We wanted to win it here on our field to show that this is Mustang ball.”
She scattered four hits and fanned three batters to help her team get that win.
Coach Frannie Caulder was ecstatic after the game, saying she knew her girls had what it takes to be state champions.
“They’ve gotten better, and better, and better, each year.” the fourth-year coach said. “They’ve earned this, and I’m so happy for them.”
The Lady Mustangs finished with an overall record of 30-6, making them the all-time winningest single-season team in school (and possibly Anderson District One) history.
They will lose three standout senior starters (first-baseman Landon Bulloch, left-fielder Tiffany Henderson, and right-fielder Bell Ford), while returning a wealth of talent and experience to make their debut in Class 3-A in 2013.