Everyone knew it was gone off the bat except Alexandra DiNardo.
It was the bottom of the fifth in the Class 6 softball final Saturday at Cosby between the Titans and reigning champion South County (Fairfax). The sides traded runs in the first and had been stuck in a 1-1 deadlock as Cosby pitcher Taylor Norton and Stallions hurler Cara Martin matched zeroes much as they did in the 2019 final, a 1-0, 17-inning marathon won by South County.
But DiNardo, a junior, stepped to the plate with bases loaded and two down. She got a fastball up in the zone from Martin, and sent a towering shot over the left-field fence for a 5-1 lead. Cosby went on to win the rematch 6-3 and claim its first state softball title since 2012.
“I was just trying to help my team, get a run in. I wanted to do it all for the seniors,” a breathless and teary DiNardo said.
“Freshman year , we did lose to this team. And I just wanted the seniors to be able to feel a great feeling of winning.”
Cosby has nine seniors on its roster, many of whom played in the 2019 final. Coach Ray Jeter called that group “our motor this year.” He knew DiNardo’s shot was gone off the bat.
“You could tell by the sound it was gone,” he said. “I know she has that in her.”
Norton, typically stoic, burst into tears and embraced her teammates upon firing the final strike.
“It feels great because we lost our season last year,,” Norton said through sniffles. “It’s kind of sad that it’s my senior year, I’m proud of everybody, they worked really hard.”
Norton, who’s headed to Villanova, threw a perfect game in the state semifinal, and has been the Titans workhorse alongside catcher and vocal leader Leah Butts, a Roanoke recruit, the past four years.
“She owned the postseason,” Jeter said of his senior hurler.
Upwards of 200 fans were in full throat throughout the contest under partly cloudy, 80-plus degree conditions. Many donned Titans Columbia blue.
Cosby senior outfielder Laurenne Gallagher got the party started in the bottom of the first with an RBI double off the left-field fence to match an early South County run. Freshman third baseman Ellie Talley added a run in the sixth on some stellar base-running, taking two bases to score on a passed ball.
Senior second baseman and UNC-Wilmington recruit Lauryn Richardson kicked off the fifth with a shot to left. Richardson rounded third and tried to score on the play, but was thrown out at home, colliding with the South County catcher in a scary moment. But after the umpires met, obstruction was called on the third baseman and Richardson was awarded third. DiNardo broke open the game a pair of base runners later.
Titans outfielder Cyann McDaniel singled twice and doubled, Talley walked and singled and Butts had a base knock. Norton cruised from the first to the sixth, until South County pulled a pair of runs back in the top of the frame following DiNardo’s homer. But Norton got a key strikeout with two down and runners on second and third to quell the rally, and that was it for the Stallions.