LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY — Sophomore Mackenzie Futrell and freshman Emily Gray have been through a lot together.
From big games in youth and select league play to tough losses in high school. One thing they haven’t been through together, however, is a playoff game, but the Florence pitcher/infielder duo made sure they would get their shot this week.
Gray struck out eight while Futrell went 2 for 3 with an RBI in a 10-0 Lady Buffs stampede of Lexington on Monday in the District 22-2A fourth-place tiebreaker.
“It doesn’t hurt our feelings because we’re both good pitchers and we’re that close,” Gray said.
“I’ll play wherever I’m needed to be to help our team out,” Futrell said.
The game ended after 4½ innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.
Florence (12-13) advances to play District 21-2A champion Crawford in the bi-district playoffs later this week. The date, time and location of that game or series were yet to be determined at press time.
Lexington beat Cameron Yoe 16-15 to advance to the second round of the tiebreaker. The Lady Eagles overcame a 10-2 deficit and scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh.
Futrell and Gray have given the Lady Buffs a good one-two punch all season in the pitching circle. Whoever isn’t pitching has played at second this season and things have worked out.
And in the most important game of the year, it didn’t matter who got the call.
“They believed in each other, and when I told them that Emily had the ball, they all thought we were going to win,” Florence head coach Brett Gola said.
Gray and the rest of the young Lady Buffs played beyond their years.
The freshman righty had a no-hitter through 3 2/3 innings and allowed just two hits and walked four.
“I just feel like our team is all together and we’re going to do so well in the playoffs,” Gray said.
“We fought so hard to get here, we haven’t beat Lexington before and this was our first time. We’re just over-the-moon happy.”
The opening game of the tiebreaker took almost three hours to play, and Gray admitted she was rooting for Yoe because Lexington swept the season series with Florence by a combined score of 20-5.
But once the third game of the season against Lexington got started, there was no stopping the Lady Buffs.
Gray singled and eventually scored the first run of the game on a wild pitch in the bottom of the first.
Junior infielder Brooklynne Owens’ RBI double scored Brittany and Gabby Ramirez in the bottom of the second. Futrell brought home Owens with an RBI double later in the inning to make it 4-0.
“I think that we just came out really determined, kept up our cheering even if something bad happened,” Futrell said. “We were going to stick through it together.”
Florence went on to score three runs in the third and fourth innings to give Gray more than enough cushion for the win.
Composure was a key in the game, and despite having a lineup with five sophomores and three freshmen, the Lady Buffs kept theirs while Lexington miscues led to more runs.
Florence only committed one error in the game and it was on a throw that didn’t lead to any Lexington runs.
Conversely, the Lady Eagles allowed three unearned runs and the Lady Buffs took 11 bases on seven Lexington errors and one wild pitch.
“I’m glad that we took advantage of it and pushed ourselves,” Futrell said.
“We took chances and it worked for us.”
The final Lexington infield error of the night allowed Gray and Clarissa Carranco to score and make it 10-0 Florence in the bottom of the fourth.
Gray went on to strike out two more batters in the top of the fifth and preserve the win. Offensively, she ended the night going 1 for 2 with an RBI.
Carranco, senior Samantha Vaughan, Brittany Ramirez and Owens combined to hit .400 (4 for 10) with two RBIs and four runs scored.
The win was Florence’s fourth in the last five games.
“I’m just super proud of our kids,” Gola said. “They’ve just worked so hard. When you start off with those top three teams in district right off the bat and start off 1-3, we had to persevere. They stayed with it, they were determined.”
The win concludes a turnaround season for the program after the Lady Buffs struggled in recent years, going 0-19 in 2012 and 6-16 in 2013.