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ELCA claims another Class A softball title

COLUMBUS—There have been a whole lot of teams lay claim to the definition of a sports dynasty over the years.

UCLA once won 10 NCAA basketball titles in 12 seasons, the Boston Celtics dominated the NBA with 11 titles in 13 years in the 1950s and 60s, and the Notre Dame football team didn't lose a game from 1946-49, winning three national titles in that era.

Jump ahead to a little more modern times, and the Eagle's Landing Christian Academy softball team is creating its own dynasty.

Saturday afternoon on a cool and crisp overcast fall day at the South Commons Softball Complex, the Lady Chargers defeated the Gordon-Lee Lady Trojans 6-0 to win their fourth straight Class A softball title.

It's also the fourth time in a row the Class A title game came down to a matchup between ELCA and Gordon-Lee.

"We were talking about it last night (Friday), and we really wanted to play Gordon -Lee again," catcher Julia Echols said. "Beating them makes it even more special."

ELCA finished its championship season with a 31-6 record in Lacy McClendon's first year as head coach of the Lady Chargers.

"This is a very special win, and this is a very special group," she said just minutes after the Lady Chargers shutout Gordon-Lee for the second time during the Elite 8.

Friday night, ELCA beat the Lady Trojans 5-0 to stay undefeated and in the winner's bracket.

Gordon-Lee then had to come out of the loser's bracket against Providence to force the second meeting with the Lady Chargers.

The Lady Trojans took care of business in their meeting with Providence Christian, beating the Lady Stars 15-1 to set up the rematch with ELCA.

"This is awesome," ELCA senior shortstop Kacie Patterson said. "The other championships were great, but this is so much sweeter because nobody expected us to do it again it this year."

In the title game, ELCA took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Symone Ball connected on a lead-off double. She scored two batters later when Echols, who is headed to Georgia on a softball scholarship, ripped a base hit and picked up the RBI.

Gordon-Lee appeared to get back in the game in the top of the third inning when Haley Kokoska connected on a base hit to lead off the inning.

One batter later, ELCA freshman pitcher Megan Betsa turned in one of the best defensive plays of the game when she dove for a ball hit up the middle, caught it, and threw over to first base to double up Kokoska. Betsa then ended the inning with a strikeout to keep ELCA's 1-0 lead intact.

Betsa gave her team a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning when she ripped a solo home run over the fence.

"When the game first started, I was nervous, but I knew I could rely on my team," Betsa said. "I was really pumped up after the first inning, especially since we scored. With Julia and Kacie as leaders out there, I figured we could get it done."

McClendon is excited to know Betsa will be part of the team for the next three years.

"She doesn't play like a freshman," McClendon said. "She is very mature for her age, and it shows when she is out there on the mound and at the plate."

The Lady Çhargers put some distance between themselves and the Lady Trojans in the bottom of the fifth when 10 batters came to the plate and they scored four times to build a 6-0 lead.

Patterson, Betsa, Michel Bell, and Amber Ashton each had RBIs in the inning to give ELCA all the insurance it needed.

Betsa allowed just two hits in the game, and she finished the game with six strikeouts.

Saturday's championship contest was the last high school game ever for Echols and Patterson.

Echols and Patterson have been part of all four state titles for ELCA. During their time with the Lady Chargers the team posted a 135-19-2 record.

"Obviously, we felt we had a leadership role because we have been here before, but it was the whole team." Echols said. "Our pitchers (Besta and Bell) kept us up and everyone did a great job, so it wasn't just me and Kacie."

This year might have been the most special title of them all.

ELCA captured its first three titles with Hope Rush, who now plays at Georgia Tech, on the mound and Kayla Cooper behind the plate.

Heading into the season, many "so-called" softball experts thought this was the year ELCA's championship run would end.

Once they got to the playoffs they dominated, beating Scheley County 9-1, Bacon County 4-1 and Gordon Lee 5-0 and 6-0.

"Our goal coming into the playoffs was to take it one game at a time, and one out a time," McClendon said. "We came out here this morning with the intention of not playing another game , and everybody stepped up and took care of business."