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Wesleyan comebacks stopped just short of championship

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Wesleyan seniors Victoria DiStasi (19), CaraMia Tsirigos (24) and Katie Frerking (17) look on as Dade County is announced as the Class AA GHSA State Champion at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus on Saturday. Dade County defeated Wesleyan 8-3 in game two.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Wesleyan seniors Victoria DiStasi (19), CaraMia Tsirigos (24) and Katie Frerking (17) look on as Dade County is announced as the Class AA GHSA State Champion at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus on Saturday. Dade County defeated Wesleyan 8-3 in game two.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Wesleyan right fielder Lillie Baker (8) throws out a Dade County runner at home plate during the Class AA GHSA State Championship softball game at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus on Saturday. Dade County defeated Wesleyan 8-3.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Wesleyan CaraMia Tsirigos (24) hits a solo home run in her final high school at bat during the Class AA GHSA State Championship softball game against Dade County at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus on Saturday. Dade County defeated Wesleyan 8-3.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Wesleyan Katie Frerking (17) is hit by a pitch against Dade County during the Class AA GHSA State Championship softball game at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus on Saturday. Dade County defeated Wesleyan 8-3.

COLUMBUS -- Ultimately, Wesleyan simply ran out of time, comebacks and power during a remarkable championship Saturday run at the Class AA state softball tournament at the South Commons Softball Complex.

Two seventh-inning comebacks gave the No. 4 state-ranked Wolves identical 8-7 victories -- the first over top-ranked Heard County and the second over Dade County -- and left them needing just one more win for their first state championship.

But Dade County's Madison Gossett held them hitless until the fifth inning of the title game, and Hailey Gass' seventh-inning grand slam broke open a close game and left Wesleyan just one step short of the title for the second straight year with an 8-3 setback.

"In that last game, we didn't have that big hit we'd had in the whole tournament," Wesleyan coach Nichole Dixon said after her Wolves (31-11) completed about seven hours of softball, during which time they belted six home runs, three by CaraMia Tsirigos and two more by fellow senior Victoria DiStasi. "We had our opportunities."

They were opportunities Wesleyan made for itself after twice being one inning -- and in one case, one out -- of being eliminated, only to survive a pair of home-run derbies.

In the elimination bracket final against Heard County (32-7), the two teams combined for five homers, with the Braves getting a solo shot from Anna Shelnutt, a three-run blast from Jasmine Cook and another solo homer from Cali Harrod.

Those longballs seemingly countered Tsirigos' solo blast in the first, plus a two-run double from Emily Farrow and RBI singles from DiStasi and Dacia Jones to help the Braves rally from a four-run deficit and take a 7-5 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh.

But the Wolves refused to quit, with Riley Hennings drawing a walk to lead off the inning, and Heard County electing to pitch around the power-hitting Tsirigos to pitch to DiStasi despite bringing the winning run to the plate.

It was a move the Wesleyan senior made the Braves regret by rifling a three-run homer to give the Wolves the walk-off 8-7 win.

"In the (elimination bracket game), I think everyone (on the Wesleyan bench) knew we weren't the third best team in the state -- that we were really better than that," DiStasi said. "I think that's what drove us. ... I was just concentrating on getting a base hit. But she threw me a nice change-up, so I just ended up taking it out, which was nice."

Nicer still was Wesleyan's continued never-say-die effort in the first championship game against Dade County, which started out as a back-and-forth power display.

Jones' three-run homer in the top of the first, which gave Wesleyan and quick 3-0 lead, was quickly matched by Madison Lacy in the bottom of the inning, with Carly Stephens following right after with a solo shot that left the Wolverines up 4-3.

Tsirigos and DiStasi each went deep later in the game -- with the former hitting a solo shot in the third, while the latter added a two-run bomb in the fifth -- but the Wolves still trailing 7-6 heading into the top of the seventh.

But once again, Wesleyan used a leadoff walk -- this time drawn by Jones -- to start a last a-bat rally. Though this time, it took until the Wolves were down to their last at-bat to come to fruition.

Lauren Daniel floated a liner just fair inside the right-field line for a triple that brought home the tying run, and the Wesleyan third baseman came on on a throwing error on Amanda DeLaPerriere's ground ball to vault the Wolves into an improbable 8-7 lead.

DeLaPerriere then pitched around a two-out walk to close out the victory and push the two teams into a winner-take-all game for the title.

But despite taking a 1-0 lead on Katie Frerking's leadoff walk, a sacrifice bunt by Henning and an error in the first, Dade County answered with two runs in the second and Lacy's two-run homer in the fourth to take a 4-1 lead.

After being shut down by Gossett for the first 4 innings, Wesleyan finally solved her with Frerking's one-out triple, and pulled to within 4-2 when the senior shortstop scored on a wild pitch.

But they could pull no closer, and Gass' grand slam in the top of the seventh gave the Wolverines enough breathing room to withstand Tsirigos' solo shot -- her third homer of the day -- in the bottom of the inning to take the 8-3 win and the title.