Zay’s double lifts Smyrna to softball finals

Laiken Zay scores the first run of the game for Smyrna, she would later drive in the winning run to send the Eagles to the state championship game for the second year in a row.

SMYRNA — As soon as Laiken Zay launched the ball toward the right-field fence, it had trouble written all over it.

One of Smyrna High’s fastest runners, Zoe Wilcox, was on first base.

And with the state semifinal game tied with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, there was no way third-base coach Nicki Shirey was going to stop her.

So when Wilcox finally slid across home plate, just ahead of a high throw, it brought the whole play to a crescendo.

The Eagles players charged out of the dugout to celebrate with Wilcox and Zay while the big crowd ringing the field cheered No. 2 Smyrna’s dramatic 2-1 victory over No. 3 Delaware Military in the DIAA softball state semifinals on Wednesday afternoon.

In a pitchers’ duel in which neither team had seriously threatened to score for a while, Zay’s game-winning double gave the defending state champion Eagles a dramatic ticket to their second straight state finals.

Smyrna (18-2) will face top-seeded Caravel on Saturday at Lower Sussex Little League in Roxana at a time TBA.

All the Eagles cared about after their second straight one-run tourney win was that they found a way to get to the title game again.

“I think any athlete, no matter what sport it is, they just look forward to that moment — just all their hard work goes into that play,” said Zay.

“It was definitely amazing,” she said about her hit. “I was just hoping for the best — not trying to think too much, not trying to be too anxious. … It was amazing. It’s hard to put into words honestly.” 

“I said, ‘We have two outs, I’ve got to give it all I’ve got,’” said Wilcox. “‘Keep running, don’t look back.’ I rolled around the bases, it felt great.

“It’s so exciting just to know that she (Zay) was able to pull through for us in the last inning, the last out. It was so exciting.”

In avenging their only in-state loss of the season, Smyrna also handed the Seahawks (20-1) their only loss of the spring.

DMA came into the contest on a streak of four straight shutouts. So when the Seahawks strung together two singles and a sacrifice fly in the top of the first to score a run, the Eagles knew they had their work cut out for them.

In the third, though, Zay came up with her other big hit of the game. The senior smacked another double, this time over the leftfielder’s head, to start the inning.

One out later, Alexis Moore’s single put runners at first and third. When Moore took off for second on a steal, DMA threw down to second.

Zay broke for home on the throw, beating the relay home to knot the score at 1-1.

“I honestly wasn’t expecting them to throw (to second),” said Zay. “But once they did, I just knew it was my job to go.”

The two pitchers — both sophomore left-handers — kept both offenses under control for most of the afternoon.

DMA’s Graceyn Frost threw a seven-hitter with seven strikeouts and no walks. Smyrna’s Payton Dixon, who was coming off a no-hitter in the Eagles’ quarterfinal win, allowed only five hits with just one walk and six strikeouts.

Dixon allowed only one baserunner over the last three innings.

“Payton was able to mix it up,” said Wilcox, Smyrna’s catcher. “I mean, I love catching her. It’s a great bond that we have.”

In Caravel (15-5), which blanked Wilmington Charter, 8-0, in its semifinal game, the Eagles face another familiar opponent. Smyrna downed the Buccaneers, 10-0, on May 3.

But just like on Wednesday, Shirey said the regular-season meeting won’t mean much in the rematch.

“During the tournament, everybody’s going to bring their ‘A’ game,” she said. “You don’t take anybody lightly. We were ready for today.

“The girls have had the mentality all season to attack everything. That’s where they’re at. They’re all in, they’re focused. They’re fun to watch.”

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or walter@newszap.com.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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