Westminster Christian Softball Team Brings Home Fourth State Title
George Richards, Vero Beach
Westminster Christian had plenty of experience after making it to the state softball tournament the past four seasons.
On Thursday night, the Warriors showed they had something special as well.
Westminster Christian took a three-run lead, then held off a rally from upstart Oxbridge Academy to pull off a 4-2 victory in the Class 4A state title game.
The championship is the fourth in school history and third for coach Scott Doan.
"This really is a special group," Doan said as he and his team stood in line to accept their championship trophy. "This game was definitely touch-and-go, but the girls stuck with it and came through when it counted."
The Warriors, who finished this championship season at 27-6, previously won a state title in 2014 when a handful of their players on this team were freshmen.
Oxbridge Academy, a fairly new prep school in West Palm Beach, came into this postseason having never won a playoff game — yet that quickly changed.
The Thunderwolves (yes, Thunderwolves) won 23 consecutive games coming into Thursday's clash with the Warriors, including three in the state playoffs.
Yet it was Westminster Christian which struck first, taking a 1-0 lead in the fourth after starting pitcher-turned-catcher Victoria Perez led off with a walk and came home on a bases-loaded walk issued to Dani Amador.
The Warriors took a 2-0 lead when senior Nikkia Benetiz raced home from third on Maddie Hefty's sacrifice fly to left, yet the umpire incorrectly ruled Benitez out for leaving third early.
"All year we told the girls they would face adversity in a game and they would have to overcome it," Doan said.
"That was a point right there. And they brushed it right off."
Westminster Christian jumped on Oxbridge Academy pitcher Lianna Mullins again in the fifth, getting two more runs to make it 3-0 and having the Warriors wondering what could have been had the umpires not shut down the fourth prematurely.
"I wasn't happy when they called me out," Benitez said, "but I knew we would move past it."
The Warriors scored both of their runs in the fifth on a bloop single to right by Adriana Otero, with Priscilla Hernandez and Meghan Diaz scoring.
Oxbridge made things interesting against pitcher Brooklyn Maguire — who started Wednesday's semifinal win yet was behind the plate to start Thursday's game — with two outs in the fifth.
Mullins helped her cause by driving in Oxbridge's first run on a single, then Maguire walked in a run.
"This was just amazing, the hard work — the blood, sweat and tears — all worked out," Maguire said. "What a great feeling. This is what we worked for all year long."
The Warriors got a big insurance run with two outs in the seventh as Benitez — now a two-time state softball champ at Westminster — tripled in Otero with the fourth run of the night.
"This is like a dream come true for us," Benitez said. "Everything worked out for us."