WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — After South Carolina lost a heartbreaker to North Carolina on Friday, Jason Justice had a straightforward message for his team.
“He just said we need to stay and play and win so we don’t come in last,” his daughter, South Carolina third baseman Taylor Justice, said.
Thanks in large part to a two-hit afternoon by Taylor on Saturday, South Carolina avoided such a fate.
With a 7-1 win over Phenix City in the third day of the Southeast Regional at Little League Stadium, two-loss South Carolina was guaranteed to stay out of the basement of the tournament and will go home with at least one victory.
“I’m really glad of the way we came back from (Friday) night,” Jordan Justice said. “I just talked to them after that game and said, ‘We are not going to give up. We are not going to be a team that quits.’”
South Carolina showed that dedication early, as Taylor Justice — who celebrated a birthday Saturday — stroked an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the first inning to bring the game to a quick 1-1 tie.
“I thought when I hit it that it was going to go over them (the outfielders),” Taylor Justice said. “Then I just said, ‘I’m ready to go home.’”
But that score came with a price.
After smacking a shot into deep right field, she raced around the bases and touched home standing up. As she crossed the plate, she collided into the Phenix City catcher, whose facemask happened to strike Taylor Justice on the side. Falling immediately to the ground tending her injury, Taylor quickly found herself scooped up by her father, who carried her to the dugout.
As dramatic as the moment was, however, the infielder came back out when South Carolina took the field the next half inning.
“Yeah, it’s fine,” she said after the game.
The drama for Phenix City was largely confined to the fourth and fifth innings when a pair of close calls didn’t go its way.
It began in the fourth, when Whitley Pope led off with a line drive to the right side that cleared the infield. But as the right fielder scooped the short hop, she had enough time to throw to first base to try to nail Pope on a bang-bang play. The umpire called Pope out.
The call got manager Lance Deaton to leave his post coaching third base. He walked up to the first-base umpire, said a couple of words and walked back as the umpire got a second opinion on the play. The call stood.
In the fifth, with two out, Phenix City leadoff hitter Kelby Hall reached base with a single. But after Hall stole second and third, she got hung up between third and home. Caught in a rundown, she forced South Carolina to make four throws before a play at the plate. But as she attempted to slide underneath the tag, the home plate umpire called her out.
Again, Deaton argued the ruling, but to no avail.
In all, Phenix City stranded three runners, and had two thrown out to end innings.
Phenix City finished the regional 0-3.