VERO BEACH, Fla. – Oakleaf gave one of the best softball teams in the country all it could handle on Thursday.
Unbeaten and nationally ranked Winter Springs pushed three runs across in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat Oakleaf 7-6 on Thursday afternoon in the Class 8A softball semifinals in Vero Beach.
Winter Springs (30-0) was in control most of the game before a valiant rally by Oakleaf over the sixth and seventh innings. But the Bears, ranked No. 4 in the nation by MaxPreps, answered, including the walk-off single by Briana Driscoll to end it.
It ends a two-year run of Oakleaf reaching the state championship game, but the Knights treated fans to two innings of softball that was about as good as it gets.
The Knights (25-5) couldn’t sustain much of anything against the Bears for nearly six full innings before unleashing a sequence that won’t soon be forgotten.
Down 4-0 with just five outs left in their season, Oakleaf found another gear.
Baylee Goddard tripled in a run. Jaycie Brookshire sacrificed in another. Aspen Windesheim singled to push in a third. Oakleaf had just one hit before the sixth inning. By the time it was over, the Knights had whittled what was a massive hole against Winter Springs into a manageable 4-3 deficit.
And that was just the beginning.
Winter Springs sat the first two Oakleaf batters of the seventh inning down before Katie Kistler singled. Jaeda McFarland drew a walk and Goddard singled off of an 0-2 pitch to tie things at 4-all. Brookshire followed with a two-run double and Oakleaf had a 6-4 lead.
Winter Springs got the game-tying single from Kaley Mudge with two outs in the seventh before Driscoll’s winner.
That it was as close as it was is a testament to Oakleaf.
For five innings, Ole Miss commit Aynslie Furbush kept the Oakleaf bats on ice. She held the Bears in front most of the game after Winter Springs spotted her a lead one at-bat into their first inning.
Bears leadoff batter Kaley Mudge homered in the bottom of the first, but Oakleaf’s Madisyn Davis worked out of a bases loaded, no out jam to avoid more damage. Kennedi Gaton drove in a pair of runs in the next inning for a 3-0 Bears’ lead.
Winter Springs will face Cooper City or Lakewood Ranch for the state championship on Friday.
Should national No. 1 Lakewood Ranch win, it would set up arguably the most high-profile title game matchup since the Class 4A game in 2010. That season, ESPN had Dunnellon ranked No. 2 in the country and Naples No. 1. Dunnellon won that game 3-2 in nine innings.
The area sent six teams to Vero Beach for the state tournament this year.
Peniel Baptist (Class 2A), University Christian (Class 3A), Ridgeview (Class 6A) and Oakleaf all lost in the state semifinal round. Creekside will play for the 7A state title on Friday.
Trinity Christian, which blasted Miami Westminster Christian 16-0 in the Class 4A title game on Wednesday night, is the only team to have claimed a title thus far.