Following a three-year title drought, the St. Patrick softball team lifted the trophy high on Friday afternoon.
The Fighting Irish (23-7-1) earned the program's fourth state title by sweeping the Class 2A championship series with a 7-5 victory over Lake at the Southern Miss Softball Complex.
It was quite a moment for pitcher Anna D'Aquilla and three other St. Patrick seniors, who had last won a state championship as members of the 2014 squad — Raven Blackwell, Raylen Blackwell and Kirstin Walters.
They finish their high school careers as part of three state title teams.
“This group has been with us since seventh grade and all four of them had two state championships,” St. Patrick coach Tommy Castanedo. “The last three years to kind of lose and then to see them go out on top, it does my heart a lot of good. They're great kids.”
The St. Patrick seniors can move on to the next step knowing they put the Fighting Irish back in a position of prominence in Mississippi high school softball. The program won three consecutive Class 3A titles from 2012-14.
Finishing with anything less than a state title this season would have been a disappointment.
“It's been in the front of our minds the whole past couple of years,” senior catcher Raven Blackwell said. “We won our first our seventh grade and we're leaving with one. I couldn't be more proud of everyone.”
D'Aquilla pitched a complete game to get the win, allowing one earned run on nine hits in seven innings. She struck out six and walked one.
D'Aquilla got the final out by striking out Alana Edmonds with two runners on in the bottom of the seventh.
The St. Patrick players rushed to the pitcher's circle and gathered in an embrace.
“That's my last game so it's great to finish on a high note,” D'Aquilla said. “We really wanted it. We've been wanting it since our eighth grade year. To be back here is really special to us.”
Junior shortstop Anna Grace Castanedo and Blackwell led the way at the plate. Castanedo was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and Blackwell finished 2-for-3, including a double off the left field wall in the third inning.
The St. Patrick defense committed five errors, but the Irish were helped out by 11 walks issued by Lake pitchers.
“We stuck to our game plan, trying to lay off the high stuff,” Castanedo said. “That worked out in our favor.”
After needing just a pair of runs to take down Lake 2-1 in Game 1, St. Patrick matched that production in the top of the first on a one-out double by D'Aquilla that led to a pair of runs, one on a throwing error.
Lake pushed a pair of runs across in the bottom of the inning on four hits, including RBI singles by Reagan Clark and Olivia Clay to tie the game at 2-2.
St. Patrick broke open the game in the fourth inning and all it needed was a leadoff single from Walters. Lake pitchers issued five consecutive walks to help push across four St. Patrick runs in the inning. It all started with an attempt to pitch around St. Patrick's top two hitters, Raven and Raylen Blackwell, and the walks kept coming.
“We just needed to sit back on the ball and do what we needed to do and hold it down,” Raven Blackwell said.
The Blackwell twins have signed to play at Jones County Junior College, one of the best junior college programs in the state.
Lake High School, which is located in Scott County, finishes with a record of 22-8.