HARDEEVILLE -- Ashlie Layman was starting to doubt herself.
The senior standout for Thomas Heyward Academy headed to the box for her final at-bat Monday against Bluffton High School with the odds pitted against her. She was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts against Bobcats pitcher Courtney Smith, and to make matters worse, Layman had surrendered 11 runs so far in her nine innings of work in the pitcher's circle.
"I was really down on myself," she said. " ... To be honest, I had no confidence in myself whatsoever."
That all changed in a matter of seconds. With the Rebels trailing by two in the bottom of the ninth, Layman blasted a towering three-run double to give Thomas Heyward a 12-11 walk-off victory at the Richard Gray Sports Complex.
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Only thing was, Layman didn't initially realize she had won the game.
"I actually didn't count," she said. "I didn't know how many were about to score. Everyone started screaming and I saw people running at me, so I figured it out."
The bevy of runs may have had something to do with that. The Rebels rallied to tie or take the lead on four seperate occasions, which culminated with Layman's game-winning double. Most of the action came late, as three Bluffton errors helped Thomas Heyward erase a two-run deficit in the seventh before another miscue helped tie things up again in the first extra frame.
"Thomas Heyward came out, executed and took the game away from us," Bluffton coach Bill Ball said.
The Bobcats still had a chance to leave Hardeeville with a victory in tow despite the bevy of mistakes. With two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth, Bobcat left fielder Chelsea Funk lined a two-run double to left field to give Bluffton a 9-7 advantage before Carly Thomas padded the lead with an RBI triple. The first baseman then came around to score on a passed ball, giving the Bobcats an 11-8 advantage heading to the bottom half of the frame.
But the Rebels (17-1) kept coming. Caitlyn Cooler started the rally with an RBI single before Jamie Malphrus and Bri Kelnhofer reached on errors. After Brielle Jungblut got aboard on a fielder's choice, the stage was set for Layman's heroics. It was her second decisive hit against Bluffton (16-2) in four days, as she lifted a solo homer in the sixth inning to beat the Bobcats 1-0 last Friday.
The victory in Hardeeville will likely become the first of many for Layman, who will play on the same field next spring for USC Beaufort and coach Ty Rietkovich.
The first-year coach may see a different Layman once she puts on a Sand Sharks uniform, however. She said Rietkovich's presence at the ballpark may have affected her performance.
"I was stressing out," Layman recalled. "I know I'm signed and all that, but I kind of wanted to prove to them that I'm an offensive player as well. I was really hard on myself."
None of that mattered in the end, however, as she helped the defending SCISAA state champions walk away with another victory over Bluffton. The Bobcats' only two losses this year have come to the Rebels, whose lone loss in turn was to Bluffton. All three meetings were decided by one run.
"Bluffton is an awesome team," coach Robert Layman said. "They've worked very, very hard. This game (and) the last game could have gone in any direction."
Bluffton 204 000 014 -- 11 12 10
Thomas Heyward 120 100 215 -- 12 13 4