BROOKSVILLE - According to Marianna Angels (ages 9-10) All-Stars softball skipper David Castleberry, Monday's 8-4 win over host Hernando Youth League took on a historical significance.
The state title win earned the Jackson County crew a visit to the Dixie World Series in Petal, Miss.
"This (win) was huge. It's only the second time that our league has captured a state championship," declared Coach Castleberry. "And never in this division. The first time was in Ponytails."
The two-hour tilt in the 90-plus degree temperatures at Tom Varn Park was dominated by Marianna right-hander Gabby Bess' sterling efforts.
Bess was a one-woman wrecking crew.
In the circle, Bess faced 23 Brooksville batters in a gutsy, five-inning, complete-game, one-hit victory. Of her game-high 13 strikeouts, Bess fanned the side in the first, third and fifth innings.
Bess, who retired the game's first seven batters - including six via punch-outs - suffered one hiccup: a four-run third inning.
Staked to a 6-0 first-inning cushion, Bess, using a crossfire pitching motion, slipped into trouble that frame against the bottom third of HYL head coach Billy Jones' lineup.
With one out, Haley Honeycutt, Lauren Sullivan and Sy Crowley coaxed the first three of a game-high seven walks.
After Bailey Jones fanned for the second out, leadoff batter Ly'Nia Fields rapped a RBI single to snap Bess' no-hit and shutout bids, plating Hunnicutt.
An ensuing error on the play permitted Sullivan to scamper home. Marianna's lone defensive miscue across 17 chances narrowed the score, 6-2.
Arianna Calhoun drew the fourth free pass of the frame to load the sacks before Greta Drenth and Brianna Taylor coaxed base-loaded walks to force home Crowley and Fields, 6-4.
From that point on, Bess returned to near pinpoint control retiring seven of the last eight batters she faced.
On the day, Bess fanned 10-of-12 Brooksville batters at least once except for Crowley and Alyssa Forte.
Holding a precarious two-run lead, the Jackson County nine tacked on two critical insurance runs in the top of the fourth.
With two outs against HYL's third pitcher, Brianna Taylor, three consecutive errors by the hosts placed two runners in scoring position.
Bess followed with a liner that buzzed the shortstop's glove into left-center plating Lauren Brock and Angel Curry for a pair of unearned runs.
Marianna (4-0 states, 8-1 overall) opened the game plating six runs on three hits, four walks and a hit by pitch in the first inning off HYL (2-2) starter Courtney Cloud.
Brock and Curry led off the frame with a walk and a looping single to left before Bess' infield hit knocked in the first of a game-high three RBI.
After Lexie Rountree walked to load the bases, Faith Castleberry coaxed a free pass to force home Curry.
Jaclyn Stephens followed with a RBI single before Ashlyn Wiermon was plunked by a pitch. Another free pass to Syd Powell plated Castleberry.
Coach Jones opted for reliever Fields. Kim Jones reached on an error to plate Wiermon.
Fields did a yeoman's job of keeping the Brooksville nine (2-2) in the game hurling three innings of scoreless relief. Of the 14 batters she faced, she permitted two hits and two walks against two strikeouts.
"I'm very happy," exclaimed the 10-year-old Bess, who along with Curry paced the visitors with two hits apiece. "Because we've never won this before."
On her mound efforts, "It was pretty hot today," recalled Bess. "I had to take my (protective) mask off a few times. I thought the last two runs helped a lot."
Curry and Brock each scored a game-high two runs for the champions.
"I thought Gabby (Bess) pitched real well," described the 10-year-old Curry. "This (victory) was very good because we've never won before."
From the visiting dugout, Coach Castleberry praised Bess.
"First of all, she's an athlete and can do some things that separate her from some of the others," said Coach Castleberry. "She went out there and established the strike zone and our defense worked great behind her. She did great. She got a little overheated in one inning, but came back and settled down."
"What'd we give up, one error today?" noted Coach Castleberry on his club's solid glove work. "That's tremendous defense. I believe we made only seven errors in the entire tournament - which is exceptional."
On the tournament in Brooksville, "This is an exceptional place to play," detailed Coach Castleberry. "The folks here were very accommodating and gracious. We had a great time. I'd love to play ball here every year."
From the home dugout, Coach Jones' crew couldn't overcome its 1-for-16 (.063) effort at the plate against Bess.
"Marianna is a great team," pointed out Coach Jones. "The thing was they don't make mistakes. We knew we needed to have everyone play their best to have a chance.
"We had a little trouble in the first inning when we changed pitchers," recalled Coach Jones. "But our girls played hard. I thought our number three pitcher (Fields) did a great job of keeping us in the game."
On finishing as state runner-up, "I don't think our girls were fully recovered from the first meeting against Marianna (a 10-0 loss on Saturday)," described Coach Jones. "When we made one error or less we won.
"I was proud of how everyone worked together," added Coach Jones. "We have all but four kids coming back next year."
HYL also finished as the state runner-up for the Darlings (ages 7-8), falling to Holmes County on Monday at Tom Varn, 17-0.
"We played solid defense but our bats weren't going," HYL head coach Bonnie Anhalt said. "Half the team had never picked up a bat and ball (before this season). To have a team with a bunch of new players and playing a team that was pretty much a travel ball team; they never got discouraged and hung in there and we'll see what happens next year."
In a quirk of the schedule, HYL (2-2) played two teams twice, first topping Sneads 5-4 in seven innings on Saturday, on a misplayed fly ball to right field off the bat of Lawrenne Anhalt that plated two runs. Later that day HYL went down to Holmes, 13-1.
On Sunday, HYL bounced back to knock off Sneads again, 7-5, setting up the title game rematch with Holmes.
Coach Anhalt credited the leadership of her two captains, Hannah Bingaman and Jadyn Wright, for helping HYL reach the final.
"To hang in there and be runner-up in the sate is a tremendous accomplishment," Coach Anhalt said. "I'm very, very proud. I thought they worked really hard."
Reporter Chris Bernhardt Jr. contributed to this story
Marianna 8, HYL 4
123 45 R H E
MAR 600 20 - 8 6 1
HYL 004 00 - 4 1 4
MAR - Bess and Jones.
HYL - Cloud, Fields (1), B. Taylor (4) and H. Taylor, Fields (5).
W - Bess. L - Cloud.
2B - Bess (MAR).
Records - Marianna (4-0 states, 8-1 overall), HYL (2-2 states, 2-2 overall).
38th annual Florida Dixie Softball State Tournament Recap
at Brooksville's Tom Varn Park/Jerome Brown Community Center
Darlings (ages 7-8)
Sneads 9, Mulberry 4
Holmes 21, Spring Hill 1
Belleview 13, Okeechobee 5
HYL 5, Sneads 4
Spring Hill 19, Mulberry 0
Holmes 11, Belleview 0
Sneads 12, Belleview 9
Spring Hill 11, Okeechobee 1
Holmes 13, HYL 1
HYL 7, Sneads 5
Holmes 14, Spring Hill 7
Holmes 17, HYL 0
Angels (ages 9-10) Traditional
Marianna 14, Wahneta 3
HYL 10, Paxton 0
Marianna 17, Wildwood 5
Wahneta 15, Paxton 6
Wahneta 19, Wildwood 4
Marianna 10, HYL 0
HYL 14, Wahneta 4
Marianna 8, HYL 4
Ponytails (ages 11-12) X-play
Wesley Chapel 9, HYL 6
Lake Placid 8, HYL 5
Belles (ages 13-15)
Mulberry 5, HYL 1
Lake Placid 21, HYL 13
Debs (ages 16-19)
Franklin County 18, HYL 3
Wahneta 8, Spring Hill 4
Spring Hill 9, HYL 4
West Pasco 14, Spring Hill 4