GREENWOOD, S.C. - It was too good to be true.
With a third state title in his grasp, Silver Bluff coach Eric Hofstetter was nervous. He briefly rested his head against the dugout fence in the bottom of the seventh, hoping for a miracle.
But he had seen this situation before.
"Every loss we've had this year, we've had the lead," he said. "I don't know what it is. We just couldn't shut the door."
Chapman tied the game in the bottom of the seventh, then yanked the title from the Bulldogs' grasp with another rally in the ninth inning for a 6-5 victory in Game 3 of the Class AA state championship series.
The Panthers (28-6) denied the Bulldogs' claim for a third state title in four seasons. Silver Bluff (25-4) held leads in the sixth inning of Game 2 and the seventh and ninth innings of Game 3.
But the six seniors who won state championships in 2002 and 2003 failed to close the deal.
"I've had a great career," senior pitcher Jessie Clark said. "It just hurts not getting it done my last year."
"These girls have had a great career," Hofstetter said. "We've had a great run. Hopefully, we can keep it up."
Silver Bluff can point to its five errors for the defeat. Or the Bulldogs can credit opposing pitcher Chelsi Edwards, who also led her team with her offense, going 2-for-4 with four RBI.
Holly Kwiatkowski went 2-for-5 to lead Silver Bluff at the plate, as the team managed just eight hits. The Bulldogs even left the bases loaded in the first inning.
But Silver Bluff seemed to find itself on the neutral site. Keyed by a two-out Jennifer Boyd double, it scored four runs in the third inning and appeared to be cruising until Chapman scored two in the fifth inning.
The Bulldogs still held a 4-2 lead entering the bottom of seventh inning.
Then it all fell apart.
Jessica Tucker led off with a walk. Salsa Meng hits a popup behind third, forcing a collision between shortstop Kellie Hair and left fielder Kaitlyn Craig.
The ball fell to the ground.
Kassie Spakes then reached on an infield error, loading the bases with no outs.
After a team meeting, Clark forced an infield popup from cleanup hitter Alex McClure. But Edwards struck for her first hit of the evening, a two-run, game-tying single.
"Whenever you walk the first batter it seems to come back and hurt you," Hofstetter said. "And it did."
With runners at second and third, Clark struck out the final two batters to force extra innings.
In the ninth, Hair drove in Boyd from third with a two-out infield single to give Silver Bluff the lead once again.
But it wouldn't last.
Spakes tied the game with an RBI double. Clark intentionally walked McClure, but Edwards came through again, slapping an RBI single to center.
Taking the game into extra innings didn't seem to satisfy the Bulldogs, who stood down the first-base line and watched Chapman receive the championship trophy.
"We had a 4-0 lead and couldn't hold it," Clark said.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org