Enquirer Herald

Gene Graham: Clover softball, queen of diamonds

Clover players were all smiles after beating Summerville in the AAAA softball state championship at the Carolina Softball Stadium in Columbia.
Clover players were all smiles after beating Summerville in the AAAA softball state championship at the Carolina Softball Stadium in Columbia. JEFF SOCHKO

The Clover High School softball team’s remarkable season, culminating with a state AAAA championship, will long be remembered by players, coaches and fans in Blue Eagle Country.

By defeating Northwestern and Summerville to gain the coveted title, the Lady Blue Eagles earned it. The Trojans and Green Wave are quality teams.

After grinding out a 2-1 win against Northwestern and Kori Wancheck for the Upper State championship, the gritty Clover team defeated Summerville in the best of three series for all of the marbles.

Summerville won the first game 3-1 at home. But the Blue Eagles refused to buckle, winning 4-1 at home to send the series to a decisive game three. The Blue Eagles won the third game 3-1 to take the state title.

In game two, in front of a huge crowd, Summerville scored an unearned run in the top of the first.

The Blue Eagles answered in the bottom of the fourth. Blake Wallert singled to open the inning, followed by a well-placed Tiffany Domingue bunt. The throw was off target, sending Wallert across the plate, with Domingue advancing to third.

Later, with the bases loaded, Shania Domingue beat the throw to first, allowing her sister, Tiffany, to score Clover’s second run.

Clover added two more runs in the fifth, when Tiffany Domingue singled to center field and Marisa Harkey doubled down the right-field line. Both scored on a throwing error by the second baseman.

The win in game two set the stage for the biggest softball game ever for a Clover team.

The team bus left Clover High School at 1:33 p.m. Friday, with CHS students waving and cheering their team. There was a sign that read “We love our Blue Eagles.”

A York County Sheriff’s Department patrol car escorted the team bus down S.C. 55, where a group of Bethany Elementary students greeted the players with loud cheers and a “Go Blue Eagles” sign.

The team arrived at Beckham Field at the University of South Carolina at 3:30 p.m.

Head coach Shea Hall wanted the Blue Eagle players to have time to acclimate to a college facility and its surroundings. Mission accomplished.

Pregame excitement was evident once the players and coaches entered the spacious stadium, a softball facility with no equal. Clover and Summerville fans could be seen at 3:45 p.m., waiting for the gates to open at 4:30 p.m.

Anticipation? You bet.

By the time the game started, Summerville had a large number of fans. Clover had more. The atmosphere was electric.

With Clover’s Elizabeth Edmunds and Summerville’s Summer Jenkins keeping opposing hitters in check for the most part, the first three and a half innings saw nothing but goose eggs on the scoreboard.

The tide turned in Clover’s favor in the bottom of the fourth.

Katie Robinson, whose home run knocked favored Northwestern out of the playoffs last year as a freshman, led off the inning with a double to the right-center field gap. She beat the throw to second with an aggressive head-first slide.

Missy Mavrogian, who was 3-for-3 against the Green Wave, singled to right, leaving runners at first and third. Shania Domingue reached on an infield grounder, loading the bases.

Hannah “The Hammer” Curtis worked the massive Clover crowd into a frenzy when she stepped to the plate and ripped a two-run double off the top of the wall in left-center, missing a grand slam by a foot or so.

“She totally left it hanging, like down the middle,” said Curtis after the game. “I just closed my eyes and let it go. It was so awesome!”

Curtis said she had visions of a home run when she rounded first. “I’ll admit I was jogging a little bit,” she said. “But I was totally OK with scoring runs that helped us win.”

Hall lauded the bottom of the batting order, Curtis and teammate Micah Sherwood, for driving in all of the runs. Sherwood closed out the scoring with an RBI-grounder.

“What they did was huge,” said Hall. “Hannah has the ability to get that clutch hit.”

Summerville mustered up a run off Edmunds in the sixth and that was it.

Hall spoke in glowing terms of her ace hurler.

“Elizabeth catches a lot of flak because she is so well-rounded,” Hall said. “She doesn’t put the time into softball in the offseason like some of the other girls.

“I do not think she gets the credit she deserves. She went 7-1 in the playoffs, allowing eight runs in eight games. I feel sure they all were not earned.”

Added Hall: “I think Elizabeth was hurting more early in the season than she let on with her wrist injury, but she battled through it. Getting her healthy and getting everybody back made a difference. I am just happy for all of the girls.”

Fighting back tears after the game, Edmunds, a senior closing out her career, said: “I’m just so excited. I can’t even explain it.”

Senior stalwarts Wallert and Harkey also spoke through their emotions.

“It feels amazing,” Harkey said. “I don’t even know what’s going on right now to be honest with you. It feels so-o-o-o good.”

Said Wallert: “I am so blessed to get this opportunity with the best teammates and the best coaches. This is the best feeling in the world.”

A few observations from this columnist on how the Clover softball team reached the mountain top.

Edmunds brings swagger to the mound. She never gets rattled. A gritty competitor.

Harkey is a power-hitting shortstop who can drive the ball over any fence in high school softball. She’s had a lot of unselfish at-bats this season, settling for base-hits and moving runners to help the team.

When you think of Wallert, think of the movie, “The Natural.” She was born to hit.

And let us not forget “Hannah the Hammer.” Her bases-loaded double off the top of the fence will go down as one of the most electrifying moments in Blue Eagle sports history.

And we certainly must not forget the invigorating head coach, Shea Hall. Mentor. Disciplinarian. Strategist. Consummate role model. Winner.

The CHS team bus was within 8 miles of the high school when a Clover fire truck appeared late Friday night off S.C. 55. A fireman stepped into the bus and said, “Congratulations. We’re gonna take you through town.”

The fire truck was joined by a Clover police patrol car a couple miles up the road, leading a blue-lighted motorcade through town.

When the team bus pulled up to the gym entrance parking lot, members of the Clover Choraliers and other students gave the state champions a hearty welcome.

It was a tribute befitting a queen. The Queen of Diamonds, if you will.