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Union County repeats as Class AAAA state softball champions

Lancaster – It took more than a week to decide but after several postponements due to rain, the Union County softball team finally clinched their second consecutive Class AAAA state championship with a 3-1 win over Hartsville on May 22nd at Lancaster High School.

Union County (31-5) got home runs from Abbie Valentine and Bailey Betenbaugh in the deciding game, leading the program to its fourth state title in the last five years.

“Stepping on the softball field five years ago from the baseball side, didn’t know what to expect,” said Union County coach Tommy Petty, who took the baseball program to the state finals in 2011 and moved over to softball five years ago. “These girls have been so amazing. These five seniors here graduating were here the first year that we won it. It’s amazing to be able to be here five years in a row.”

Betenbaugh, a junior pitcher who has committed to play at South Carolina, scattered five hits and struck out 10 in addition to her sixth inning line drive homer to give her team a 3-1 lead. Betenbaugh struck out 29 hitters in the three-game series.

“I came into this game focused and knew my team would work hard behind me,” she said. “Hartsville is a great team, a great program. We’ve played them five years in a row now and we respect them, but we also wanted to win real bad. We were ready to play tonight.”

The Yellow Jackets took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Krista Kicidis delivered a sacrifice fly. Hartsville answered with Taylor Watford’s RBI single in the top of the third. Watford hit the game-winning, walk-off homerun to give Hartsville a 2-1 win in game two of the series.

Valentine’s long homer to left center in the bottom of the fourth inning pushed the Jackets to a 2-1 lead.

“This whole series, Hartsville didn’t allow us to string any hits along,” Petty said. “We got hold of a couple balls and it worked out for us. They hit a homerun (in game two) to win it and it worked for us tonight.”

Hartsville coach Tommy Garrison lamented lost opportunities in the series.

“We had some opportunities early and we couldn’t get the big hit,” Garrison said. “We knew we had our hands full with their pitcher and we needed to capitalize when we had a chance.

“We had a great season. Really proud of my girls. We came up a little short. Union County is a really good team.”

Union County loses five seniors from this year’s team but Petty will return a solid core, including Betenbaugh. The coach sometimes finds it hard to believe that he has experienced four championships in five years as a softball coach.

“I was always told the girls will play harder for you,” Petty said. “That first year, those girls would do anything we asked them. They bought into what we were telling them. These girls still give us everything they’ve got, every day.

“All of them are special. I love all of my girls the same. Just very special.”

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