Kennard-Dale's players came to bat in the sixth inning of Thursday's District 3 Class 4-A softball championship game knowing they had just six outs left and a two-run deficit to overcome.
"We were thinking 'it's now or never,'" Rams' shortstop Jaedyn McKeon said. "We fought so hard all season for this moment (a chance to play for the district title)."
K-D seized the moment, scoring two runs in the sixth inning to tie the game and then winning it in the bottom of the eighth in dramatic fashion with a walk-off suicide squeeze bunt.
The 3-2 victory at York College gave the Rams their first district softball championship since the 1990 team earned gold medals in Class 2-A.
"It's amazing," McKeon said following the medal ceremony. "We worked so hard for this all season. I'm so grateful for the team and everyone who helped us get this far."
McKeon, a freshman who displayed the poise of a senior, collected two hits and scored two runs, including the winning one.
She opened the bottom of the eighth by driving the ball the opposite way down the right-field line. Eastern's right fielder made a bid for the catch, but couldn't come up with the ball as it hit and rolled into foul territory.
McKeon ended up at third base, just 60 feet away from scoring a run that neither she nor her teammates would ever forget.
The next hitter, Lexie Kopko, also a freshman, bunted for a base hit, but McKeon had to hold at third.
After Kopko took second, Eastern intentionally walked Amber Belt to load the bases and set up a force at home.
The next hitter popped out, bringing Alexis Hurley to the plate.
On the first pitch to Hurley, McKeon broke for the plate. Hurley got the bunt down as McKeon slid across home with the winning run.
"Jaedyn is amazing," Hurley said. "She will always get a bat on the ball, and she will always come through for us."
McKeon wasn't the only one who came through for the Rams in the late innings.
After she started the sixth inning by reaching second on a single followed by an outfield error, Kopko ripped a base hit to right field to score McKeon. Kopko took second on the throw to the plate and ended up coming around with the second run on Chloe Parker's infield single and a groundout.
Hurley, the winning pitcher, put together seven scoreless innings, yielding both Eastern runs in the top of the fifth.
Morgan Dobbeck's single, followed by Katie Lehman's double, scored one run. Morgan Winter drove in the other run on a single to right field.
The two-run burst allowed Eastern to break through first, but K-D would not be denied.
"Boy, did we get off to a slow start, but all the credit in the world goes to Eastern," K-D head coach Greg Coulton said. "They hit the ball, and they made us work."
The Rams, though, never got down on themselves. Coulton and his assistants kept encouraging the players.
"We keep preaching, we're never out of a game. keep battling, keep battling," Coulton said.
K-D's players heeded the message and pulled out a comeback victory. The second-seeded Rams improved to 18-3, while fourth-seeded Eastern York fell to 14-6. It was the third meeting of the season between the York-Adams League Division III rivals. They had split their two previous battles.
"At the beginning of the year, we always set our goals," Coulton said. "Our first goal was to win our division, We did that. We looked at the district bracket, and I said 'I think we have a pretty good shot of coming through here.' We had a tough game with East Pennsboro, but we did enough to win. Just like we did today."
Both K-D and Eastern are in another bracket — PIAA Class 4-A.
The Rams are scheduled to play District 12 runner-up Esperanza Academy Charter. The Golden Knights are matched up with District 12 champion Monsignor Bonner-Archbishop Prendergast. The first-round games are set for Monday at sites to be determined.
Kopko went 3 for 4 for K-D in the district title game, and McKeon added a triple and a single. Dobbeck and Lehman collected two hits apiece for Eastern.
Reach Dick VanO'Linda at email@example.com.