Vidalia walkoff lifts Lady Vikings in extras of playoff game

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Vidalia High School’s Tatum Turner, left, embraces teammates Taylor Rodgers, center, and Taylor Yates after Turner scored the winning run for Vidalia as a pinch runner in the bottom of the 10th inning against Albany High School during the first round of the LHSAA Class 3A Playoffs Tuesday. Vidalia won the game 8-7. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Vidalia High School’s Tatum Turner, left, embraces teammates Taylor Rodgers, center, and Taylor Yates after Turner scored the winning run for Vidalia as a pinch runner in the bottom of the 10th inning against Albany High School during the first round of the LHSAA Class 3A Playoffs Tuesday. Vidalia won the game 8-7. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

VIDALIA — In the midst of a rally, down 7-6 to Albany High School in the bottom half of the 10th inning with two outs, Vidalia senior catcher Mallory Wheeler was about to step to the plate before head coach Forrest Foster waved her over.

Down to their last out in the first round of the LHSAA Class 3A playoffs, Foster put his hands on Wheeler’s helmet and leaned in.

“I told her, ‘Regardless of what happens, whether you fly out or get a base hit, it doesn’t matter. Just go in there and have a good time, see your pitch and hit your pitch,’” Foster said. “There may be pressure, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a softball game.”

Wheeler stepped in and lined a shot directly between Albany’s second baseman and right fielder, dropping an RBI single to tie the ballgame at 7.

“I thought they were going to catch it, so I was pretty nervous,” said Wheeler, as her eyes filled with tears. “I saw it hit the ground, and it was just awesome.”

The rally culminated in an RBI single by Katlyn McCarver that scored Tatum Turner, giving Vidalia the 8-7 win and a scheduled 4 p.m. Thursday night matchup against No. 1 seed John Curtis.

Before the Lady Vikings had to rally, though, Taylor Rodgers was dominating inside the circle. With 12 strikeouts and only two hits given up through six innings pitched, Rodgers was having a career night. With a 4-0 lead, Rodgers needed three outs to secure the victory, but suddenly, Albany started hitting bloopers out of the infield. Five bloopers later, Albany tied the game at 4 to extend the game.

“I was like, ‘alright, we have to get back in there and score more to win it,’” Rodgers said.

As Rodgers totaled 168 pitches through 10 innings of work, striking out 17 in the process, Rodgers held Albany scoreless in the eighth and ninth before the Lady Hornets scored three runs in the top of the 10th. Foster said Rodgers called him out on the mound in the seventh inning to tell him she was limited to throwing fastballs only from that point.

“She was on her game tonight,” Foster said. “Look she throws an awful lot of curveballs, and those wear on you. She called me out there in the seventh inning, and she said, ‘Coach, I just can’t throw them anymore.’ So we started throwing the fastball late, and she did fine.”

As fate would have it, down 7-4 with her senior season on the line, Rodgers would be the first to step to the plate for her team in the bottom half of the inning.

“I’ve just got to get on base, I’ve just got to get on base,” Rodgers told herself.

Rodgers ripped a double near the centerfield wall and scored after Katelynn Bertleson ripped an RBI single one batter later. Megan Naquin followed with a single before Wheeler stepped to the plate with two outs.

Following the win, Foster joked about pacing in nervousness throughout the game, and despite the dramatic win, Foster said he might have preferred a conventional one.

“I wouldn’t have scripted it like that if I could,” said Foster, laughing.

Rodgers was 3-for-4 on the day for the Lady Vikings with two doubles.

The win gives Vidalia a 17-6 record on the season as the Lady Vikings travel Thursday to rematch John Curtis in the playoffs. Vidalia fell to No. 1 John Curtis 7-0 in 2014.