COLUMBUS — Collins Hill’s softball team has prided itself on finding a different hero each game this season.
In the winner’s bracket final of the Class AAAAA state tournament Friday against No. 2 Brookwood, it was McKenzie Halstead’s turn to lead the top-ranked Eagles.
The junior third baseman belted three homers and drove in all of Collins Hill’s runs in a 4-1 victory over the Broncos, moving the Eagles to within one more win of their second straight championship.
“She was a little frustrated (in Collins Hill’s first two wins Thursday),” Eagles coach Billy Dooley said of Halstead. “She didn’t hit the ball like she usually does. But it’s somebody different (who steps up) every game.”
Friday was Halstead’s night and Collins Hill needed it. Her home runs were the only three hits of the game for the defending champion Eagles (32-2-1) off Brookwood starter Brandi Jones (19-4).
“(Thursday) night, I wanted to cry. It was so horrible,” Halstead said. “I know (Jones) pretty well. So I’m used to her pitching, but this is probably the best I’ve ever hit her.”
It looked like Jones and the Broncos (34-7) would grab the early momentum after Jessica Neidigh led off the top of the first with a single and advanced to third on two wild pitches with only one out.
But Kayla Floor (22-2) struck out Megan Litumbe and got Mandy Blackwell to ground out to short to escape the threat.
“It would’ve helped if we could’ve scored early,” Brookwood coach Bill Batchelor said. “Floor (bore) down and did what she’s done all year. That’s why they’re where they’re at.”
The Eagles are also where they’re at because Halstead made sure they capitalized on a two-out error by Brookwood in the bottom of the inning. She launched a shot just out of the reach of Jenny Blackwell as she ran into the portable fence in straightaway center for a two-run homer that put Collins Hill up 2-0.
Halstead then made it 3-0 with her solo shot in the fourth before Brookwood tried to match the longball.
After the Broncos cashed in a two-out error on Jenny Blackwell’s RBI single to pull to within 3-1, Litumbe came up representing the potential tying run and sent a deep drive towards the fence in left-center.
But the park was just big enough for Ariele Patterson to haul in the fly ball and keep the Eagles in front.
“That was a little scary,” Dooley said. “But she got under it a little bit, and our defense was able to make the play.”
After Halstead’s first two blasts, Brookwood chose to take another crack at her when she came to bat in the bottom of the sixth.
It turned out to be a bad choice as Halstead slammed her third homer of the night over the fence in left-center to make the score 4-1.
“She was swinging it well,” Batchelor said. “I probably look pretty stupid for throwing to her. She swung the bat well. Give her credit.
“Brandi pitched great. Coaching-wise, I probably let our kids down (Friday).”
Brookwood had one last chance after singles by Daniella Ulloa and Neidigh brought the tying run to the plate.
But Floor, who scattered five hits and one unearned run while striking out seven in seven innings — retired Jenny Blackwell to close out the game and send Collins Hill back to the title game.
But Dooley reminded his team afterward how they came through the elimination bracket to win the title last year. He warned them that they still must beat either Brookwood or Harrison — which play each other today at 10 a.m. — to take home their second straight title.
“The last thing I said to them was, ‘Somebody else has to do what we did last year,’” Dooley said. “I wanted to make sure they knew it can be done. We can’t take anything for granted. We’ve got to come out ready to go.”
Harrison 3, Grayson 0
The Rams’ season came to an end at 22-12-1 after they fell to the Hoyas earlier in the afternoon despite two hits from Shelby Smith.
Savanna Burkhiser and Kylie Klim also had a hit each for Grayson.