Eloise Mauldin was honored by the Southeast Whitfield softball team for her current battle with breast cancer before Tuesday night’s home game against Ridgeland. But she couldn’t stay past the second inning after the Lady Raiders presented her and her family with a check for $2,600.
However, she certainly was in the hearts and minds of the Lady Raiders throughout the night — and she probably couldn’t have been prouder of the outcome.
Mauldin’s granddaughter, junior third baseman Chaya Drury, delivered the game-winning hit in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Lady Raiders a 5-4 win in a key Sub-region 7B-4A matchup.
Somewhere, the 72-year-old Mauldin, who has seen five children and two grandchildren graduate from Southeast over the years, had to be smiling. It was an emotional night for many on the team, because seven Lady Raiders have family members who have either passed away from cancer or are currently battling the disease.
On a night dedicated to awareness and honoring those who have suffered, the Lady Raiders wore special pink-accented uniforms.
“She is a big part of my life, and she is always caring about someone else and never worried about herself,” Drury said of her grandmother. “Our team is like a big family anyway, and when we found out that so many of us have had to deal with cancer and its effects, it just drew us closer together.”
With the score tied at 4 after the regulation seven innings and the international tiebreaker in effect, Drury came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth with Brooke Hasty on third after moving over on Emily Beck’s sacrifice bunt.
Tammy Drury Manis was in the stands to see her daughter deliver the game-winning hit, and it was understandably an emotional moment for the hitter’s mother.
“It’s been an amazing day and very special for our entire family,” Manis said. “I knew there were a few other players on the team who had people in there lives with cancer, but I didn’t know it was that many. There really are no words to describe how much this entire night has meant to us.”
Sophomore left fielder Mekala White lost her grandmother Peggy White to a brain tumor after winning a battle with breast cancer, and her other grandmother, Barbara Owen is currently battling breast cancer as well.
“It is one of the only things in my life that left me truly heartbroken,” Mekala White said of the passing of her grandmother. “Every time I see that happening to someone else, it is hard and I don’t wish it on anyone.”
But it was certainly a happy ending for the Lady Raiders (8-10, 3-2 Sub-region 7B-4A) against Ridgeland.
Freshman pitcher Sydney Covington was especially strong through the first five innings, holding the Lady Panthers (10-5, 2-4) scoreless while allowing just two hits and stranding five runners on base.
The offense had done enough early for a 2-0 lead, taking advantage of a pair of first-inning errors and getting RBI singles from Hasty and Beck, and that was the way the game stayed until the Southeast defense finally showed some cracks in the sixth.
Three Southeast errors and three Ridgeland hits gave the Lady Panthers a 3-2 lead, but the Lady Raiders responded to tie in the bottom half of the inning. Hasty scored on an error off of a sharp grounder to third by Beck, and that knoted the game at 3-3.
A walk, a sac bunt and a single up the middle by designated player Haley Johnson put Ridgeland back on top in the seventh, but senior catcher Tavi Parris delivered a two-out hit in the bottom of the inning to score Warfield, who had reached on a double and made it to third when the ball got away from the third baseman as she tried to make it a triple.
Beck, Hasty and Drury handled the dramatic ending in the eighth after Ridgeland wasted a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity with consecutive groundouts to Covington, who allowed just one earned run on seven hits with four strikeouts and as many walks.
Southeast coach Kelley Barton said her young team, which has just one senior, is starting to mature.
“We have grown up a lot in the last couple of games,” said Barton, a first-year head coach. “We have learned how to finish games. Early this season, when Ridgeland came back and took the lead, we probably wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I am very pleased considering how young we are and how they are starting to handle things.”