STANDISH — The undefeated season was complete, the celebration had started to wind down, and Sarah Benner was thinking about candy.

“It’s like a Sour Patch Kid,” the Hall-Dale senior shortstop said. “Sour, and then sweet.”

For the Hall-Dale softball team, it couldn’t have ended sweeter. The Bulldogs earned their first softball state title, defeating Dexter 5-0 to win the Class C championship at Saint Joseph’s College’s Richard W. Bailey Field.

The victory wrapped up Hall-Dale’s season at 17-0. Dexter finished 15-3.

“It’s honestly unbelievable,” said junior outfielder Tanley Tibbetts, who went 1-for-3 with an RBI triple and two runs. “It’s just so overwhelming to think that we made it here. … Just to win states, it’s just such an unbelievable feeling.”

“It was fantastic,” Hall-Dale coach Steve Acedo said. “I’m pretty happy. I just sat back and watched them enjoy it when they ran on the field and stuff, I just stayed out of the way. It was fun to watch. That’s why I coach. It’s pretty cool.”

The “sour” from Benner’s analogy was the lead-up to this season: the lost 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, which Benner, one of two seniors on the team along with Savannah Strout, called “heartbreak,” and some reshuffling that saw everyone on the team but Emma Soule at second base and Lily Platt at third either change positions or take over as the starter at one.

Hall-Dale relief pitcher Rita Benoit throws during the Class C softball state championship Saturday in Standish. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The “sweet” was everything since — Saturday afternoon in particular. As was the case in their 3-0 C South championship victory over Madison, during which they took the lead in the first inning, the Bulldogs started fast in the state final. Benner was hit by a pitch, Rita Benoit had an infield single and Tibbetts reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases with one out.

Lily Platt followed with a grounder to short that scored Benner, Soule (two hits, two RBI) smacked a single to center that brought in Tibbetts, and Platt came home on a passed ball that suddenly had Hall-Dale up 3-0.

With an early lead, goal No. 1 was accomplished.

“(It’s) an advantage, whoever comes out of the gate first,” Acedo said. “You try to set the tone of the game.”

“I think it really boosted our confidence,” Soule said. “It had us up in the dugout. … We’ve been waiting pretty late in the game to get started for most games, so it feels good to get up early.”

Two more runs in the third on a triple by Tibbetts that scored Benoit and a bunt single from Soule that scored Tibbetts allowed Hall-Dale to focus on goal No. 2. The Bulldogs’ superb pitching and defense from the Madison win continued two days later, with freshman Ashlynn Donahue (five hits, three strikeouts, one walk) pitching five shutout innings and sophomore Benoit (one hit, four strikeouts, no walks) keeping Dexter off the board for the last two.

Sarah Benner and Hall-Dale teammates celebrate with the Class C softball state championship trophy on Saturday at Bailey Field in Standish. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“Ashlynn did exactly what I wanted out of her,” Acedo said. “Five strong innings, and you’ve got Rita standing out there in right field, she was 8-0 or whatever it was this year. That 1-2 tandem for us is big. … You couldn’t ask for it to work out any better than that.”

Acedo could have said the same thing about the season. Expectations were high around Hall-Dale going into the spring, and the Bulldogs never wavered under their weight.

And with a chance to make history Saturday, they were ready once again for a final challenge.

“The emotions are just crazy,” Tibbetts said. “I can’t stop smiling. Everyone’s so happy all around, and it just brings tears to my eyes knowing that we did this today.”

“It’s an amazing, amazing way to end my career,” Benner said. “Words can’t even explain it. I can’t think straight.”

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