What an afternoon it was for Emily Clifford.
After being staked to an early 7-0 lead on the strength of a three-run homer and then a grand slam by Hayley Shifflett in the first two innings, Clifford saw that lead evaporate completely and before anyone knew it, the hurler and the Mustangs were headed to extra innings.
In the bottom of the ninth, Clifford came up with runners on second and third and drove in the game-winning run with a sacrifice fly to left, allowing the Mustangs to edge Jefferson District rival Fluvanna County 9-8 in the first round of the Region 3C tournament, a game in which Clifford went the distance on the rubber.
The Mustangs got a leadoff pinch-hit double from Kyla Jenkins that barely missed leaving the yard and ending the game itself. Emily Morris followed with an infield single, then a sacrifice bunt from Elizabeth Kenney set the stage for Clifford’s heroics.
Monticello put runners on in the seventh and eighth innings, but none got past second base, keeping the game on Clifford’s arm. Each time, she kept the Fluco bats quiet.
“It was a great feeling,” Clifford said. “Fluvanna’s knocked us out the past two years, we knew we couldn’t just play around. We had to fight and that’s what we did.”
After digging a big hole, Fluvanna finally chipped away in the third. The Flucos together strung three RBI hits in a row — singles by Katie Morris and Kendall Gordon followed by Tori Koczan’s double which made it 7-3. Monticello got a run back in the bottom half of the frame when Cifford was walked with the bases loaded.
“Fluvanna is one of those teams that just doesn’t give up,” Monticello coach Beth Humphrey said. “They’ve always hit us well. I knew that they were going to fight back.”
Fluvanna made its move in the fourth with a four-run, two-out rally. Candice Shaheen got it started with an RBI single, scoring Gracie Walton, who had led off with a single. Catera Marsh followed with a single, then Gordon delivered the big blow with a two-RBI double. Two more singles brought the Flucos to within one.
They tied it in the fifth when Shaheen notched her second RBI single of the game, this one just out of reach for Monticello third baseman Jessica Williams to get the Flucos all the way back.
“Coach Keith had told them that we were starting to play not to lose versus playing to win,” Humphrey said. “I think the light bulb finally went off. It was like, ‘let’s just do this like we know how to do it.'”
Clifford didn’t allow another hit until the eighth inning.
Monticello advances to play No. 2 seed Turner Ashby in the regional semis with a state tournament spot on the line.