At the start of the season, Paul Laurence Dunbar was playing exceptionally well.
But when it came to game time, the team loaded with underclassmen would buckle under the pressure.
"At the games, everyone would completely freeze up," sophomore outfielder Emily Bryan explained.
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The Bulldogs started the season with just two wins in 10 games.
But they've gotten hot at the right time, winning nine in a row, including the 43rd District championship over Tates Creek on Wednesday night, 5-1.
It was the Bulldogs' first district title since 2008.
"They're learning how to win," Dunbar Coach Mike Wainscott explained. "They're young, but they just keep fighting. We hit the ball when we needed to. And we're playing good defense."
All of the above came in quite handy at Lexington Christian in the title game Wednesday.
The teams were scoreless through three innings before Dunbar got on the board with Kaitlyn Elias' line-drive single to left driving in Kaylie Zander.
Creek responded with a run of its own in the bottom of the inning to tie it.
The Bulldogs anwered with five of their seven hits off Creek junior Finley Yuttayong in the final two innings.
Shelby Shanks' two-run double to left field broke the 1-1 tie.
"We wanted to win," Shanks said in describing Dunbar's surge at the end of this season, but it just as easily could have described Wednesday's game. "We made the decision in our minds."
Zander and Stephanie Harvey scored in the seventh inning on a passed ball and an RBI single from Elias.
Riley Brown, Elias and Shanks each had two hits for the Bulldogs (20-16-1).
As great as those runs were, Wainscott was most pleased with the Dunbar defense, which included dramatic catches in both the semifinal upset over No. 11 Lafayette and in the championship game.
Her defensive work in left field is the main reason Bryan took home the Most Valuable Player trophy.
The Bulldogs don't necessarily have a dominant pitcher (although Emily Norton and Zander combined to hold Tates Creek to three hits), but that hasn't mattered, the head coach said.
"We tell our pitchers just keep it down, let's let them roll the ball and play some defense," Wainscott said. "Defense wins championships is what we remind them."
It won this one and the Bulldogs hope it will win one more in the 11th Region Tournament, which starts next week. Tates Creek (17-17) also advances.
Paul Dunbar 000 102 2—5 7 2
Tates Creek 000 100 0—1 3 0
Emily Norton, Kaylie Zander (5) and Rachel Ferguson. Finley Yuttayong and Carleigh Adams. 2B—Stephanie Harvey (PLD), Kaitlyn Elias (PLD), Shelby Shanks (PLD); Yuttayong (TC), Anna Mutters (TC).
Records—Paul Laurence Dunbar 20-16-1, Tates Creek 17-17.
43rd District All-Tournament team — MVP—Emily Bryan (Dunbar); Kaitlyn Elias, Shelby Shanks, Kaylie Zander (Dunbar); Anna Mutters, Finley Yuttayong, Kenzi Groft (Tates Creek); Katelyn Mitchell, Brittany Sims (Lafayette); Ellen Mitchell, Jill Maronde (Lexington Catholic); Emily Orrender, Hannah James (Lexington Christian).