Carley Robins, welcome to the fairy tale.
The Clarke slugger will remember the last swing of her final high school softball game for the rest of her life. She’ll dream about it. She’ll be reminded of it at class reunions and trips to her hometown supermarket. It will follow her wherever she goes.
And she’s OK with that.
Robins cemented her legacy in state tournament lore here on Friday when she turned on a Keely Bycroft pitch over the inside part of the plate and sent it into orbit for a championship-winning walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning. The longball gave third-ranked Clarke a thrilling 7-6 victory over No. 9 Bondurant-Farrar in a thrilling Class 3A title bout at Rogers Park.
“Of course I’ve dreamed it, but I never knew it was going to happen,” Robins said after her lead-off shot to left field. “That’s probably the most clutch thing I’ve ever done in my life. I didn’t even know where it went.”
Clarke (27-8) avenged a 6-3 loss to the Lady Jays (22-14) in the 2013 title round and it did so without veteran catcher Kassidy Spurgin, who left on a trip to Italy to play for a select team yesterday morning.
It didn’t stop the Lady Indians from building a 6-1 lead after four innings, but Bondurant-Farrar did rally to tie knot the game at 6 in the top of the seventh.
And that set the stage for Robins.
“I just had a feeling (Robins) was going to do that and, wow, what a way to end her high school career,” said Clarke head coach Lindsay Diehl, an Iowa Central assistant coach from 2005-09. “She’s just one of those kids that, no matter how big of a slump she’s in, when it matters she is so clutch.”
Robins went 3-for-4 at the plate, part of Clarke’s 10-hit output against the southpaw Bycroft. Kennedy Crees and Libby Bemis laced two singles each and Vanessa Bakley added an RBI base hit. Clean-up hitter Devon Carson drove in two runs on a sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly.
The Lady Jays – back in the title hunt despite a seven-game losing streak in mid-June and a sixth-place finish in the Raccoon River Conference – began to mount their comeback in the fifth. A double by Kenzie Adams, followed by a triple by Ashley Burrows brought life into the dugout and both eventually scored. Emily Wilson also singled and trotted home to trim Clarke’s lead to 6-4.
It stayed that way until the seventh and Bemis – Clarke’s reigning 3A Pitcher of the Year – retired the first two batters easily to put her team on the championship doorstep.
Wilson roped a two-strike single to center. Bycroft followed with a two-strike, RBI double to right-center, and Annika Ekstam completed the rally with a two-strike, RBI base knock to right to even the game at 6.
Clarke was one pitch away from celebrating three times and suddenly found itself tied, yet never lost its composure.
“I stay calm most of the time and they’re good hitters. I give them props,” Bemis, who was named the captain of the all-tournament team, said. “I was throwing my pitches and hitting my spots, so there’s nothing I can do when they hit it.
“We didn’t want that feeling (of losing in the title round) this year and second wasn’t an option. We were just going to scratch and claw and find a way to win this ballgame.”
Bemis, a Minnesota State recruit, allowed 11 hits and five earned runs. She finished with five strikeouts.
The torturous top of the seventh may have caused some fingernail biting in the Lady Indians’ dugout, but without it Robins’ moment in the spotlight never would have materialized.
Ironically, she would have been OK with that, too.
“I would have rather ended it (in the top of the seventh) because it would have taken so many nerves off me,” Robins said. “But I wasn’t nervous when I went up to bat.”
Wilson was a perfect 3-for-3 for Bondurant-Farrar, which was unable to give legendary coach Roger Roland a fourth state crown. Burrows was 2-for-4 and Norton plated a pair of runs.
Bycroft was on the hook for four earned runs. The Lady Jays committed five errors behind her, including two in each of the first and third innings when Clarke scored its first six runs.
Bycroft struck out seven.