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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Lady Tigers Row, Row, Row Their Boat Past Riverside to Win 2A State Championship

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The Mansfield Lady Tigers won their first softball State Championship since 2012 on Saturday, May 18th by defeating the Riverside Lady Rebels 4-2.

To play in a State Championship game is big. To win a State Championship is even bigger. The fact that Riverside defeated the Lady Tigers 1-0 last season in the Championship game, that it’s been over a decade since Mansfield has won a softball State Championship, that the Lady Tigers had lost in the Championship game the past two consecutive seasons, and that it took extra innings to win this past Saturday, well, you’ll need to break out the ole dictionary to find more words to express how BIG of a victory it was.

The game was a pitcher’s duel for the first four innings as Mansfield’s, Alyson Edwards, faced off against Riverside’s 2023 Championship MVP, Klaire Womack. Neither top tier pitcher was going to allow their opponent’s batters to just ease their way around the bases. It seemed like a repeat of the 2023 Championship game as the game stood scoreless up until the bottom of the fifth inning. The Lady Tigers held a runner on all three bases as Trinity Triska stepped to the plate. Triska, who is known for her quiet demeanor, eyed each Riverside pitch perfectly to earn a walking trip to first base. This allowed the walk home for the Lady Tigers third base runner to set Mansfield up with a 1-0 lead. It didn’t take long for Riverside to catch up though, as the Lady Rebels tied the game on an RBI single. Riverside had a chance to walk their way in for a win in the bottom of the seventh with a runner on second and two outs. The Lady Rebels hit a speedy ground ball directly at shortstop Kynslee Ward. Ward zipped the ball to first baseman Ambria Whittaker, who edged the Riverside runner to gain the out at first base. There was very little denim left on the back pockets of fans in the stands for neither Mansfield nor Riverside in this edge of the seat thriller. But going into extra innings, the fans left their seats entirely to watch this one go down to the wire.

The Lady Tigers again sent Trinity Triska to the plate first and the payoff was huge as the silent assassin quickly scored on an error to break the tie on the scoreboard. The Lady Tigers hit a wall shortly after, though, as Riverside landed a one-two punch taking two Lady Tigers out. A one run lead isn’t anything to hang your hat on for any team, but Mansfield was “Whitty,” and it came down to being in a pinch. Ambria Whittaker headed to the batter’s box with what could have been the game on the line. Unfazed by the pressure, Whittaker popped up a single into left field which allowed two Lady Tigers to roll in for a score. If anyone thought the game was all over with a 4-1 score, then they don’t know anything about Riverside softball. With two outs in the books, the Lady Rebels cut the 4-1 lead of Mansfield down to 4-2 with an impressive RBI single. Now that Riverside was charging back, it all boiled down to the arm of Mansfield’s All-State, All-Star pitcher, Alyson Edwards. If the future University of Nebraska-Omaha pitcher could close out the game against Riverside’s final batter, then she’d forever cement herself into Mansfield softball lore. If not, then Riverside would remain a threat to defeat the Lady Tigers for the second straight year. Edwards didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity as she downed the final batter to engrave the Lady Tigers name into the 2024 2A Arkansas Softball State Championship trophy.

While Edwards was deservingly named the game’s MVP by throwing a total of 153 pitches, 15 strikeouts and only allowing one earned run in eight innings on three hits, she’ll be the first to tell you that it wasn’t her who won the game, it was the Lady Tigers team as a whole. Over the course of 2024, the Lady Tigers replaced their entire outfield and saw new faces at first base and as catcher. Bosting only five seniors, the Lady Tigers had a relatively young team roster wise. Seniors Alyson Edwards, Kynslee Ward, Kinley Vanmeter, Harlie Fuller, and Cole Smith have made Mansfield Softball a statewide name over the past few years as the seniors have obtained a 90-18 overall record, four Conference Championships, four District Championships, three Regional Championships, two State Runner-Up trophies, and the State Championship over their four-year careers. Although these excellent seniors will no longer be on the team in 2025, the youthful Mansfield group left behind have proven that they have what it takes to continue the Mansfield Lady Tigers softball name of excellence into the future.

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