VERO BEACH — The postseason for the Moore Haven High School softball team was anything but dull.
The comeback kids rallied to win a regional semifinal and regional championship, but another huge comeback wasn’t enough to get the Terriers past the state semifinals.
Moore Haven’s season, and the high school career of Sydnee Cypress, ended in heart-breaking fashion May 19 when Lakeland Christian staged a rally of its own for a 9-7 win in a Class 3A state semifinal at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach.
Trailing 5-0 entering the bottom of the fifth inning, Moore Haven’s season looked like it would end quietly. But the Terriers erupted for six runs in the inning to take a one-run lead.
Cypress played a big role in the rally. She sliced a first-pitch opposite field single to shallow right that brought home one run and trimmed the deficit to 5-3. Cypress scored the tying run on a two-run triple into the left field corner by Alexis Story. The Terriers took a 6-5 lead on an RBI groundout from pitcher Olivia Everett.
Still nursing the one-run lead in the top of the seventh, Moore Haven became unglued, more of a result of bad luck than anything else.
A single that hit Everett in the circle, a bloop single into shallow center and a slow squibbler off the end of the bat that didn’t go more than 40 feet all handcuffed Moore Haven’s defense as Lakeland Christian knotted the game at 6-6.
Lakeland Christian soon regained the lead on a sacrifice fly, but a diving catch by Sunni Bearden, who was a defensive star throughout the season, prevented more than just one run from scoring on the play.
Lakeland Christian managed to tack on a couple more runs before the end of the inning for a 9-6 lead. Moore Haven scored once in its final at-bat, but couldn’t muster another dramatic win as its season ended with an 18-8 record.
A week earlier Moore Haven rallied from a four-run deficit to edge St. Petersburg-Admiral Farragut, 5-4, in nine innings in the Class 3A-Region 3 championship.
Winning pitcher Everett sent the Terriers to their third trip to states in the past four years by drilling a two-out, opposite-field double into the right-center gap that scored Story from first base with the winning run and touched off a wild celebration as Terriers poured out of the dugout to mob both players.
“We’ve had to [play from behind] more this year than we did last year, but it’s made these kids tough,” said Moore Haven coach Clint Raulerson. “They never think they’re out of a game. We were down 3-0 last game; we were down 4-0 this game and it doesn’t look good, we’re not hitting, but they never quit. They never back down from anything.”
Moore Haven and Admiral Farragut battled for the third consecutive year in a regional final. The teams split the previous two meetings. All three were decided by one run.
Cypress (two hits) and Bearden (game-tying RBI) provided a boost at the plate as the Terriers sealed a trip to Vero Beach.
That trip looked in doubt as Admiral Farragut built an early 4-0 lead by flexing its power. Isabella Hamilton smacked a solo home run to center in the second inning and Krystina Hartley delivered a two-run blast in the third.
But the Terriers were determined to make sure their season didn’t end on their home field. After the homers, Everett allowed only two singles and one walk the rest of the game. She fanned nine batters.
Story ignited a three-run spurt when she was plunked by a pitch to start the bottom of the fourth inning, which also included an RBI double from Everett.
Moore Haven knotted the game at 4-4 in the sixth when Ariane Valdez, who led off with a walk, scored on a bases-loaded groundout to the pitcher by Bearden.
Moore Haven left runners in scoring position in the seventh and eighth before finally securing the victory on Everett’s winning hit in the ninth.
Bearden produced the defensive gem of the game at the start of the eighth when she made a low backhanded catch on a full sprint in left-center before somersaulting.
“Those are game-changing plays,” Raulerson said. “Those are plays that set the tone for everybody else. Sunni didn’t hit well today – and she’s usually our top hitter – but she picked it up with her defense. We preach that all the time about picking it up, and she did it today.”
Moore Haven played in the state championship in 2014 when this year’s seniors were freshmen. The Terriers reached the state semifinals in 2015 and came within two outs of getting to the state final this season.
“They’re the toughest damn bunch of kids I’ve ever coached,” Raulerson said after the Admiral Farragut game. “They never say die. They believe in each other. They never stop playing for one another…It’s the greatest bunch of kids I’ve ever coached.”