The Airline Lady Vikings are one victory away from winning the first state softball championship in school history.
In a classic pitchers’ duel, No. 5 seed Airline defeated No. 1 West Monroe 2-1 in a Class 5A semifinal game Saturday at Frasch Park in Sulphur.
Airline senior pitcher Raelin Chaffin smacked a leadoff home run in the top of the seventh. It came just after West Monroe pitcher Maddie Nichols tied it with a homer in the bottom of the sixth.
The Lady Vikings (20-5) will face No. 3 Barbe (30-2) for the state title at 3 p.m. Saturday. The Lady Bucs defeated No. 7 Pineville 6-3 in the other semifinal.
West Monroe finished 30-3. The Lady Rebels’ season started and ended with losses to Airline. Their only loss in between was to Barbe.
The state title game will be a rematch of the 2019 semifinals. Barbe rallied in the seventh to win 7-6.
Airline is making its second appearance in the state championship game. The Lady Vikings lost to Ruston 3-1 in 2007.
To say the Airline-West Monroe game was a nailbiter would be an understatement.
Through four scoreless innings, Chaffin and Nichols had allowed a combined three hits.
Airline finally broke through in the top of the fifth.
Leadoff hitter Chaffin drew a walk after fouling off two pitches with the count full.
Pinch-hitter Aubrey Jeane smacked a one-out double to center. Tori Rayburn, running for Chaffin, advanced to third.
Jina Baffuto then singled to left, scoring Rayburn.
The score remained 1-0 through 5 1/2 innings. But with one out in the bottom of the sixth, Nichols tied it, sending the ball over the left-field fence.
Chaffin didn’t get rattled, inducing groundouts from the next two batters.
Then she stepped up to the plate as the leadoff hitter in the seventh. With a 1-0 count, she launched the ball over the left-field fence.
The excitement wasn’t quite over though. Kamryn Eaton led off the bottom of the seventh with a double.
Chaffin struck out the next batter for the first out. Nichols was up next. This time Chaffin got her to pop up to first baseman Morgan Kunath.
Then with the count full, West Monroe’s Kaylee Cooley made contact and sent the ball sailing toward center field. Paige Marshall made a running catch and the Lady Vikings were able to exhale and start the celebration.
Chaffin finished with 14 strikeouts. She allowed four hits and no walks.
Nichols allowed five hits, struck out nine and walked two.