Senior Emma Wood played every inning of every game in her four years with the Pirates.
Emma Wood swung the bat just once in her final high school softball game.
The Matanzas senior drove that pitch to the center field wall for a leadoff triple in the first inning of a Region 1-4A quarterfinal game May 11 at Daytona State College.
Jacksonville Paxon intentionally walked Wood her next three times at bat and scored six runs in the top of the seventh inning to defeat the Pirates 7-1.
“Emma Wood ripped one in the first inning,” Paxon coach Steve Brown said. “She's hitting .642, and she showed why. There's no way I was letting her hit again. I'm not going to let one kid beat us.”
Matanzas coach Sabrina Manhart wondered why more teams didn't adopt that strategy this season.
“I have to say, they were smart,” Manhart said. “I'd have done the same thing. I’m surprised people didn’t walk her more.”
Wood’s numbers were ridiculous this season. She finished the year with a .647 batting average, 37 runs in 68 at bats, eight doubles, six triples, three home runs, a .706 on-base percentage and a 1.780 OPS.
Wood scored the Pirates’ only run in the first on Emily Warren’s two-out grounder to third base that was ruled an error.
“It was very frustrating,” Wood said of being automatically sent to first base on three straight at bats. “It’s difficult because I want to help my team with my bat, just to kind of get things started, get it rolling.”
Matanzas freshman Leah Stevens, who had pitched a total of five innings in the previous 10 games because of hip tendinitis, mowed down the Golden Eagles for five innings before she began to tire. She struck out 12 batters and did not allow a hit through 4.2 innings until Hayley Hinds got on base with a bad-hop single.
“Leah went above and beyond,” Manhart said. “She gave us everything she could.”
“I haven’t pitched seven innings in a month and half. I was wearing out. I felt I pitched as well as I could for as long as I could.”
Paxon scored an unearned run in the sixth to tie the score and then Hinds, Addison Brown and Jaela Palmer belted triples in the seventh to put the game away.
“I haven’t pitched seven innings in a month and half,” said Stevens, who pitched 6.1 innings. “I was wearing out. I felt I pitched as well as I could for as long as I could.”
Said Wood: “I think we let it get in our heads a little and let the runs take over. It was like a domino effect.”
The Pirates ended their season with a 14-10 record and a district championship. While the Golden Eagles got on their bus quickly for the drive home, the Matanzas players lingered on the DSC field where Manhart had coached for 12 years.
Tears flowed, but the players also clowned around. Manhart held on to outfielder Myracle Pigninelli as two other players dumped a Gatorade cooler full of water on the senior.
“It’s nice to see everyone come together, even though we lost. We’re one big family.”
“It’s nice to see everyone come together, even though we lost,” Wood said. “We’re one big family.”
The Pirates wiped away their tears and posed for one final team photo.
“It all hit me,” Wood said. “I didn’t expect to cry tonight.”
Wood played in every single inning of every game during her high school career, Manhart said. Next year, Wood will be hitting and pitching for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
“Emma and I came to Matanzas at the same time,” Manhart said. “She stepped on the field, and in the circle, at the right time. We had a group of seniors that had great leadership, and they rallied around her. They knew she could help them get where they wanted to be.”
The Pirates went 21-5 that season. The makeup of this this year's squad was similar with five seniors and five freshmen, including Stevens, playing key roles. Wood stepped out of the circle for Stevens, a rising star who struck out 129 batters in 66.1 innings.
“She got behind the plate when we needed her. She was willing to come out of her comfort zone. It’s come full circle with Emma teaching the five freshmen our traditions.”
SABRINA MANHART, Matanzas coach
Wood played wherever the team needed her this season: catcher, outfield, infield and back in the circle when Stevens was injured.
“She got behind the plate when we needed her,” Manhart said. “She was willing to come out of her comfort zone. It’s come full circle with Emma teaching the five freshmen our traditions.”
“I’m really grateful I got to play with them,” Wood said. “Helping my team anyway I could was nice.”
With just three juniors and no sophomores on the team this season, the Pirates will be dominated by sophomores next year.
“We have five freshmen on varsity, and almost our entire JV team is made up of freshmen,” Stevens said. “The freshmen on JV now will have to step it up.”
“We’re going to be in good hands the next few years,” Manhart said.