The Latta Lady Panthers had little hope of winning the Class 2A state softball championship because the Ringling Lady Blue Devils had a lot of ‘Hope’ on their side. That ‘Hope’ was Hope McLemore.

McLemore, the Lady Blue Devils’ ace pitcher, singled and scored the game’s only run and tossed a one-hitter and struck out 16 on the mound to lead Ringling to the 1-0 victory over Latta in the title game at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Latta (24-7) wasn’t supposed to be here according to the rankings and the pollsters, but the Lady Panthers upset No. 3 Colbert and No. 2 Healdton in the first two rounds of the state tournament and played the No. 1 team in the state as close as anybody. In fact, Latta had never won a state tournament fast-pitch contest before this weekend and were 0-of-2 in two previous trips.

“In that first inning we could have collapsed and let them score five or six and it would have been over with,” Latta head coach Jimmy Foster said. “But, we didn’t do that. We fought back (to stay close). There are just not enough good things to say about these girls. They’ve worked hard and I’m really pleased (with how they played). I wish we would have been on the other end, but somebody’s got to win and somebody’s got to lose and today it was our turn. After that performance today they’ve showed that in our class they are one of the two best. We didn’t quite get it done today, but I’m still mighty proud of these girls.”

The Lady Panthers struggled at the plate all game against McLemore, putting runners on base only three times. Keeli Kessinger had the only hit of the game in the second inning, but was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double. With two outs in the sixth inning, Kaitlin Hisaw went all the way to third base on an error (via a misplayed ball in the outfield), but McLemore struck out Tara MacCollister looking to end the inning. Taylor McDonald reached on a walk for the other baserunner for Latta.

Latta’s Autumn Lawrence (23-7) was the hard-luck loser in the game, giving up only five hits while striking out seven in a strong outing of her own.

Ringling’s only run came in the first inning when McLemore singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and third when Logan Reid reached on an error. Mindy McElroy followed by just beating out an infield single that scored McLemore with the only run of the game.

Kessinger finished 1-for-3 for the Lady Panthers and McLemore went 2-for-3 with a run scored for the Lady Blue Devils.

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