Eagles repeat as softball champions: Smyrna blanks Caravel 1-0 in state final

Sara Miller (7) and her Smyrna teammates hold up the DIAA championship trophy following Saturday’s 1-0 win over Caravel. Delaware State News/Ben Heck

ROXANA — A double play was a fitting way for Smyrna High to end it.

When starting pitcher Payton Dixon snagged a bouncing ground ball up the middle, she pivoted and threw to second base to start the game-sealing 1-6-3 double play to clinch a 1-0 state championship victory over top-seeded Caravel Academy Saturday afternoon.

It’s the second straight DIAA softball state championship for the No. 2 seeded Eagles (19-2).

“It’s still sinking in,” said Smyrna coach Nicki Shirey. “It’s going to take a couple of days I think, but I’m definitely excited and happy for these girls. They’ve earned it.”

Prior to last season, the Eagles hadn’t won a softball title in 25 years.

Kayla Wilson rounds third base and heads home to score the only run of the game.

“We’re really blessed to be able to say we’ve won two,” said senior Abigail Mace. “It’s unbelievable school history, it’s something that our seniors have left behind that we can be really proud of.”

The Eagles played nearly error-free defense, made diving catches all over the field and turned a pair of double plays to back up the sophomore Dixon’s complete game four-hitter at Lower Sussex Little League in Roxana.

“I think it really comes down to the old saying ‘defense wins championships’ and that’s what it was today,” Shirey added. “You only need one run to win, so that defense really helped us today.”

“Our defense was lock down today,” said shortstop Lexi Moore. “We just know that we have each other’s backs and had a lot of confidence out there, and it really showed.”

Julia Thuer drove in Kayla Wilson with a single to center field for the lone run in the top of the first inning.

After tagging second base, shortstop Lexi Moore tosses over to first base to complete one of Smyrna’s two double plays on the day.

Smyrna collected seven hits, with Wilson and Lexi Moore each collecting two and Thuer, Olyvia Smith and Laiken Zay registering one each.

Dixon, who pitched a few innings of relief in last year’s 16-7 title win over Appoquinimink High, struck out four and stranded six Caravel baserunners.

“Last year’s championship game really helped her, she knew there was going to be a lot on her shoulders and she really handled it well this year,” Shirey said.

“It definitely helped me,” Dixon said of last year. “I just have confidence in myself and believe in my team. Hopefully we can get another one next year.”

Breanna Bryant, Courtney Brobst, Brooke Holdsworth and Savannah Sobolak collected the four hits for Caravel.

Smyrna players swarm pitcher Payton Dixon moments after the final out.

Senior Savannah Sheats tossed a complete game, striking out a pair of batters for Caravel.

After defeating the Bucs (15-6) during the regular season by a score of 10-0 in six innings less than a month ago, Thuer didn’t expect her first inning RBI single to be the only run of the game.

“I definitely thought we were going to hit the ball better than we did today, because we beat them 10-0 last time we played them, but they (Caravel) brought their ‘A’ game today,” said Thuer. “The defense has really been here this tournament. We got it done today, and it feels really good.”

“I didn’t think it was going to be this close of a game, but I knew we couldn’t take them lightly,” said Moore.

Smyrna left eight runners on base, including three on third base, and went 1-2-3 in the second and fourth innings.

“We were hitting the ball, putting the ball in play, we just couldn’t get anything to push through,” explained Shirey. “A lot of our hits were going right to their outfield. The one run was just a little blooper to the outfield, that’s all it took. I was OK with that.”

Three of Smyrna’s four state tournament games were decided by one run, including a 1-0 no-hitter thrown by Dixon in the quarterfinals and a 2-1 walk-off win in the semifinals to earn the title game appearance.

Catcher Zoe Wilcox, centerfielder Abigail Mace, pitcher Payton Dixon (8) and short-stop Lexi Moore (2) celebrate the final out Saturday.

“Our defense, we work hard every day,” said Mace. “Defense, defense, defense. We try not to make any errors and it doesn’t feel like we’re only up by one run sometimes with the way the defense plays.”

Smyrna has accumulated a 40-3 record, including an 8-0 tournament mark, with the two championships over the past two seasons.

Seven of the past eight state championship teams have come from the Henlopen Conference.

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