Highland was making its second straight appearance in the 4A state championship game, while Dardanelle was looking to win its second state softball title in a three-year stretch.
And although the Lady Sand Lizards only notched three hits against Lady Rebel Karisa Hendrix, turns out that was all Dardanelle needed to squeak past Highland 1-0 in eight innings May 9 at Bogle Park on the University of Arkansas campus.
Hendrix was masterful as usual and had a no-hitter going into the top of the seventh inning. Hendrix, the state record-holder for high school softball strikeouts (1,391) ended her magnificent career by fanning 15 Lady Sand Lizards, while walking a pair.
With one out in the top of the seventh, Dardanelle's starting pitcher, Cendyl Carter, broke up Hendrix' no-hitter with a hit to short left. Brittany Battenfield followed that with a double to left, giving the Lady Sand Lizards runners on second and third.
But Hendrix ended the threat with back-to-back strikeouts.
"Karisa pitched great today and she also fielded her position well," Highland Head Coach Rebecca Rider said. "Just like always, she did a great job for us."
Highland had a shot to go ahead in the home half of the seventh, as Jessica Sellers led off the inning by reaching first thanks to a Dardanelle fielding error. The Lady Sand Lizards committed three miscues in the game, one each in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
But Carter got the Lady Sand Lizards out of a jam in the bottom of the seventh by recording back-to-back strikeouts. She was named the game's MVP and fanned eight. Carter was also the winning pitcher the last time Dardanelle won the state championship in 2007.
In a scoreless tie after seven innings of play, the eighth inning was played under international tie-breaker rules, meaning Dardanelle's Kassidy Traigle started off at second base.
She moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Alleabelle Gongola. Then, Brianna Vestal notched what proved to be the game-winning hit, a single to center that plated Traigle.
Courtney Sharp started the home half of the eighth on second and after a strikeout, moved to third on a sacrifice by Alison Price.
But Sharp was left stranded on third as Carter got a strikeout to end the game with Dardanelle on top 1-0.
It was the second straight time the Lady Sand Lizards (27-3) had needed extra innings to find victory. They beat Dover 2-1 in eight innings in the state semis.
"That's how we got here in the first place," said Lady Sand Lizard Head Coach Greg Jones. "We moved the runner over and got a big hit."
Highland (28-6) had base runners on board every inning except the second, but just could not come through with the big hit that it needed.
"We've got to come through with those runs and then we don't get ourselves in that (tiebreaker) position late," said Rider. "I'm proud of my kids. You hate to lose, but you played a tough team. You can't ask for more than to be at this particular ballgame. I'm proud of them. We came out aggressive and that's what I asked for. We put the bat on the ball every inning, but she (Carter) had a great game."
The closest the Lady Rebels got to scoring came in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Katheryn Bobo got on base thanks to a Dardanelle fielding error and she then moved to second on a fielder's choice by Stephanie Shaw.
Next up, Alex Whitten hit into another fielder's choice and was tagged out running down the first base line. Bobo motored to third on the play, but overran the bag and was hung up between third and home. With nothing else to do, Bobo lowered her head and charged home. But she was tagged out at the dish, getting Dardanelle out of the inning with no harm done.
"She (Bobo) just got a little too far off the bag and didn't realize where the ball was," Rider said. "They threw behind her so then she had to make a commitment. And we got thrown out."
Then in the top of the seventh, the Lady Sand Lizards finally found a little bit of success against the fireball-throwing Hendrix.
"We try to be patient against most pitchers, but she's so overpowering," Jones said of Hendrix. "She's got a great riseball and that makes it tough."