Nicknamed the “little gnat” by her Central Florida Sting coaches and teammates, 5-foot-3 Molly Shasteen proved to be pesky to the Carolina Cardinals on Sunday.
The talented second baseman swatted a RBI single in the sixth inning to lift the Orlando-based Sting to a 1-0 victory over the Cardinals in the ASA / USA Class A 18-under Softball National Championship game at Winged Deer Park.
“We call her the little gnat because you can’t get rid of her,” Sting coach Steven Hatch said. “She creates havoc and she did create havoc. She was outstanding.”
One of four Sting players to sign with Stetson University for the upcoming season, Shasteen was determined to take advantage of a scoring opportunity created after the previous two Florida batters had been hit by pitches.
She lined a single to right field to score Megan Tice for the game’s only run.
“I wanted to make contact and get it out of the infield,” she said. “I knew what I had to do because I wanted to win so bad. So I just swung as hard as I could.
“It’s all I ever dreamed of to win the national championship. We’ve been here the last three years and we’ve gotten closer and closer. So, we knew we were going to win this year.”
That confidence carried over into the circle where starter Paige Matthews gave up one hit in two scoreless innings before Megan Lafon scattered three hits over the next five innings.
Facing the pressure of holding onto a 1-0 lead in the top of the ninth, Lafon gave up a pair of singles before recording the game’s final two outs.
“It’s a national championship and a pretty big deal,” said Lafon, who is signed with Seminole State Junior College. “There was a lot of pressure to keep them from scoring since it was only one run, but it was great. It pushed me to hold on.”
While most of the attention was on the winning run and the pitchers’ duel, the Sting’s defense featured a pair of rocketing throws from shortstop Kayla Drury, another Stetson signee, and a game-high seven assists by third baseman Rachel Minor.
“Rachel is unbelievable,” Hatch said. “She was a late pickup for us. We had a team made up of girls who were all going to college this year. Three of them had to leave early and couldn’t make this trip. So, I picked up a couple of girls who were young and Rachel was one of them. She is a phenom.”
The Cardinals, who blasted the Tennessee Fury 14-0 in the losers’ bracket final to reach the championship, had plenty of great defensive plays as well.
Carolina pitcher Lexi Shubert gave up just three hits in six innings, while Ashley Christy crashed through the temporary fence at the deepest part of center field to deny the Sting’s Morgan Hatch a home run in the sixth inning.
“Those were two really good teams, with their defense and pitching,” Carolina head coach Rick McComb said. “Actually, both teams can hit although there weren’t many runs scored. There were some great defensive plays to keep runs from scoring.”
Both teams missed a couple of other scoring opportunities. The Cardinals, whose only other loss was 4-3 to the Sting on Saturday, had a runner stranded on third base in both the second and seventh innings. There was only one out in the seventh when Mellena Helms reached third. Likewise, the Sting had a runner on third in both the third and fifth innings only to come up empty.
Coach Hatch explained why the victory was the perfect way to go out for the Sting.
“This is a great win, a great way to end our careers together,” he said. “All the coaches are retiring. I’ve been coaching some of these girls since they were seven years old. They’re all retiring from the travel ball circuit and they’re all playing college ball.”
The Tennessee Fury finished third out of the 95 teams who participated in the week-long tournament. The Fury, based out of Chattanooga, defeated the Indiana Shockwaves 3-0 in Sunday’s losers bracket semifinal.