PALM COAST — Seven of the first eight games on Flagler Palm Coast’s softball schedule are district games. And so far, first-year coach Amber Shifflett is showing she knows how important it is to compile wins early.
After a walkoff win Thursday against Sandalwood in a District 1-8A game, the Lady Bulldogs are off to a 2-0 start in the district.
“The girls were so pumped to play at home,” Shifflett said. “We have waited quite some to have that infield ready. Many of them were nervous, but I think nerves are a good thing.”
Because of so much rain over the past few weeks, FPC’s field has had irrigation issues, rendering the infield unplayable. The Lady Bulldogs have been forced to practice at other fields throughout the county.
Thursday’s game against Sandalwood was the first home game for FPC this season.
“Now that we have a few games under our belts, hopefully we’ll settle in and relax more on defense,” Shifflett said.
Relaxing wasn’t really part of the plan in the game against Sandalwood, though. FPC jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning.
From there, the two teams were locked into a pitcher’s duel.
Tied 1-1 heading into the top of the seventh inning, FPC needed just three outs to have a chance to win the game in the bottom half of the inning.
Instead, the Lady Bulldogs’ defense fell apart. Sandalwood put the ball in play. Two runs later, FPC trailed 3-1 heading into their last at-bat.
“I told them as they came off the field in the (top of the inning) that if we are going to go down tonight, we better go down fighting,” Shifflett said.
Her Lady Bulldogs fought. With two outs and a run in to make it 3-2, Katie Bender reached second base on an error and scored the game-tying run on C.C. Smith’s single to right field.
Smith, a speedster, advanced to second on Destinee Heard’s single.
Then, catcher Addison Eggert became the hero, driving the ball to the right-center field gap. Smith cruised home easily, giving the Lady Bulldogs a 4-3 walkoff victory.
FPC (3-2) completed the comeback.
Shifflett is in her first year as FPC’s head coach. She was an assistant last season. She said her team’s comeback was one of the most exciting wins in a game she has ever coached.
“I am ecstatic about the approach in the bottom of the seventh,” she said. “They did everything right at the most critical time.”
FPC continues its run of district games on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Mandarin. Shifflett expects that to be FPC’s toughest game.
“As long as we keep hitting the way we have been in key situations, and Anna Hardy continues to pitch her game in the circle, we should be in decent shape,” she said.
Hardy finished the game with eight strikeouts. With Sandalwood leading 3-1 in the top of the seventh and the bases loaded, Hardy was able to close the door on what could have been a much bigger rally when she struck out two straight batters to end the inning. Shifflett said Hardy’s pitches have movement and consistency.
“We have been working in the bullpen on pitch sequence and using her off-speed pitches to her advantage,” Shifflett said.