Pressure on Hinchliff in last innings as Sparx sneak home
EVERYWHERE you looked there was a new story to be told about Sparx Hyne's thrilling 9-8 victory over minor premiers Incas Mercury in the Maryborough senior women's grand final on Saturday.
There was Karen Hansen, who less than 24 hours before the first division grand final was sitting in a hospital with busted ribs she suffered during a football match, but battled through the pain to field at second base.
Then there was Kelsie Brockway, who put the heartbreak of her mistake two weeks ago against the same opposition behind her with a superb batting display to earn the player of the game award.
Pitcher Hayley Hinchliff, a barista at a cafe who serves a killer coffee, showed when the heat is on in a game she can still deliver in pressure situations, throwing the game-winning strikeout.
And what about sweet little Kali Bunt. Filling in as catcher for Hansen, Bunt, the smallest girl on the field, demonstrated terrific composure and strength for someone who has spent little time behind the plate.
The resolve, the twists, the match-turning plays. It was everywhere you looked.
But let's not forget Sparx's opposition, Incas Mercury, which got within one hit of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Seemingly down and out when Sparx pulled away to a 7-1 lead after two frames, pitcher Susan Cain came to the fore as she inspired a remarkable comeback, conceding just two runs and five hits in her last five innings pitched.
She was backed up well by her fielders who pulled off some great plays, including Kim Daley, who turned back the clock to make a stunning catch in the sixth inning that epitomised Incas' determination and never-say-attitude.
This grand final was not just another game - they never are.
But few deciders have the luxury of these fascinating series of sub-plots, played in the true spirit of the game.
"We're ecstatic, because we weren't really expecting it," Sparx shortstop Sheree Lehr (pictured) said after the match.
"We've been building towards this and we knew if we got here today we would have given them a good game.
"We had only beaten them once all year, but today it all came together and everyone stepped up again when we needed to."
Sparx started the day as underdogs, but as they did in the semi-final a fortnight ago, they got on an early roll with Lehr making back-to-back hits, Brockway driving in two runs in the second inning and Hinchliff smashing a solo home run to left field to give Sparx a six-run lead after two frames.
But Incas' bats would chip away at Sparx's lead over the next three innings, scoring three times in the third, two in the fourth and once in the fifth.
As the runs dried up, it eventually came down to the bottom of the seventh and final inning with Sparx leading 9-7.
Joylene Heath snuck home after Sarah James connected, edging Incas to within one run.
With a runner on second and third, and two outs, it all came down to final pitch from Hinchliff, who secured the title for Sparx when she struck out Daley swinging - Hinchliff's sixth strikeout for the match and second in the inning.
So many highlights, so many stories - but only one winner.
As we often say in a grand final like this, it is sad that there has to be a loser.
But the Incas players can certainly hold their heads high.
The dominant team all year, losing just one game in the regular season, Cain said she could not have been more proud of the players' efforts.
"We sort of let the ball down in the first couple of innings, but we fought back hard and kept it tight and I'm super proud of the girls," Incas' inspirational leader said.
"We always have a good game against Sparx it was always going to go down to the wire."