By Will Johnson
BELTON – The Slocum Lady Mustangs’ offense was on fire during their journey to the state tournament. After a first round bye, the Lady Mustangs defeated the Martinsville Lady Pirates in the Regional Quarterfinals by a score of 16-5.
The next week, Slocum defeated the Kennard Lady Tigers in the Regional Semifinals 11-0. In the Regional Finals, the Sulphur Bluff Lady Bears fell victim to the Lady Mustangs in a best-of-three series by scores of 5-0 and 10-1.
The series win over Sulphur Bluff sent Slocum into a State Semifinal matchup with the Bartlett Lassies and while the Lady Mustangs continued to pound the ball, it was their defense that helped propel them to a 10-5 win and a shot at the title.
Jalyn Fletcher was in the pitcher’s circle for Slocum in the semifinal matchup against Bartlett and picked up the victory in seven innings of work. Fletcher gave up nine hits and allowed five runs (three earned). She also struck out two and walked three, however, she only faced 27 batters, six over the minimum.
When compared to Bartlett’s pitcher, Jana Nowinsky, the defensive prowess of the Lady Mustangs becomes apparent. Nowinsky yielded 10 runs (one earned) on eight hits, with one K and no bases on balls.
In addition, the Lady Mustangs only committed two errors in the game while the Lassies had seven.
The semifinal game got underway with the Lady Mustangs at bat. Nowinsky made quick work of Slocum as she retired the side in order. When Fletcher stepped into the circle, she retired the first two batters she faced but gave up a single to Nowinsky for the game’s first hit. Nowinsky was stranded at first, however, as Fletcher caught Azalia Degollado swinging at strike three to end the inning.
Slocum drew first blood in the top of the second as Taylor Clark scored the first run after two Bartlett errors. Makayla Bickerstaff led off the inning with a fly ball out to leftfield. Clark followed Bickerstaff to the plate and reached first on an error by the Bartlett infield. Briley Evers moved Clark to second with a bunt single.
Kara Cumby was up next and popped out to centerfield but the ball was deep enough to allow, Clark to tag up and advance to third. With two outs, Shelby Bowman slapped a pitch to second base that was booted for an error and allowed Clark to scamper home to make the score 1-0.
After Nowinsky coaxed a fly ball out from Laney Lasiter to end the top of the second, the Lassies struck back in the bottom half of the inning to take a 3-1 lead.
Alisia Concha drew a lead-off walk from Fletcher and moved to second on a Brianna Campos single. Jasmin Fletcher was up next for the Lassies and hit into a fielder’s choice which moved Concha to third and Campos to second. Sydney Cooper followed Fletcher’s fielder’s choice with a fielder’s choice of her own to drive in Concha and move Campos to third.
Fletcher was called out on the play, but Cooper stole second to take her place and moved into scoring position. The steal paid off for the Lassies when De’Ijiah Pope delivered a single into right to plate both Campos and Cooper to make the score 3-1.
After finally getting out of the second, Fletcher led off the third for Slocum with a double to centerfield. She moved to third on Courtney January’s infield single and when January stole second, the Lady Mustangs had runners in scoring position with nobody out.
The next batter was Jessi Ives. She cut into the Bartlett lead with an RBI groundout which plated Fletcher and moved January to third. Bickerstaff followed Ives in the batter’s box and reached on the third Bartlett error of the game.
Bickerstaff stole second to move into scoring position and when Clark flied out to center, January tagged up at third and crossed the dish to tie the game at three. On the play, Bickerstaff was able to move to third and when Briley Evers singled to right, Bickerstaff scored to give the Lady Mustangs a 4-3 lead.
The Lassies battled back to tie the game at four when they came to bat in the bottom of the third. Nowinsky led off for Bartlett with a ground out to first. Degollado followed with a single, took second on a passed ball and moved to third on a wild pitch.
Concha drew a walk and attempted to steal second but was gunned down by Evers who threw a frozen rope to Bickerstaff for the tag. On the play, however, Degollado scored to tie the game. After Campos walked, Jalyn Fletcher stuck out Jasmin Fletcher to end the frame and send the game into fourth inning.
With the score knotted at four, the Lady Mustangs exploded for five runs in their half of the fourth to effectively put the game out of reach. Bowman reached on an error and took third on the same play.
Lasiter followed with a single to left to drive in Bowman as the flood gates opened. Fletcher was up next and singled through the left side of the infield to advance Lasiter. January continued the onslaught as the Lassies defense fell apart. She reached on a fielder’s choice at second that resulted in an error which allowed Lasiter to score and moved Fletcher to third.
Ives added to the Lady Mustangs’ lead with a sacrifice fly that brought in Fletcher from third and made the score 7-4. A groundout by Bickerstaff moved January to second and when Clark tripled, January motored around the base paths to cross the dish.
A third fielding error in the inning on an Evers grounder to short allowed Clark to head home and give the Lady Mustangs a 9-4 lead. In total, the Lady Mustangs only had three hits in the inning, but coupled with the three errors, Slocum crossed the plate five times.
In the bottom of the fourth, Slocum showed how to overcome multiple errors and limit run production. Cooper led off the bottom of the fourth for Bartlett and reached on an infield error. She moved to third on Pope’s single up the middle.
Sidney Luna was up next but hit into a fielder’s choice which resulted in Evers tagging out Cooper as she tried to score. Pope took second on the play at the plate. Brittany Campos followed Luna in the batting order and also hit into a fielder’s choice which forced Luna at second, but a Slocum error allowed Pope to score and cut the lead to 9-5.
After back-to-back explosive innings from the offense, the Slocum defense took over. Nowinsky retired the Lady Mustangs in order in the top of the fifth while Fletcher only gave up a double to Brianna Campos.
On the double, however, Campos got greedy and tried to stretch it into a triple. Bowman fielded the ball in center and hit Bickerstaff with the cut-off. Bickerstaff turned and fired to Ives who applied the tag to Campos and just like that, a two out rally was snuffed by the Lady Mustangs.
Slocum went quietly in the top of the sixth while the Lady Mustangs’ defensive wizardry kept Bartlett off the scoreboard. Fletcher led off with a single for the Lassies but was forced at second when Cooper hit into a fielder’s choice. Pope was up next and the Lady Mustangs decided it was time for a double play.
Pope grounded to January who flipped to Bickerstaff covering the bag and on her second, inning-ending throw, Bickerstaff threw a laser to Cumby at first to catch Pope by a step for the third out.
The Lady Mustangs tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh when Evers reached first on an error. She was lifted for pinch runner Christy Dunnam who scored when Cumby blasted a triple to right field to make the score 10-5.
With three outs remaining in the game and a chance to play for the title, the Lady Mustangs pulled out one last defensive gem.
Luna led off the bottom of the seventh for the Lassies and slapped a single into center. Campos followed her with a single past short and with nobody out, Bartlett had runners at first and second.
That all changed on the next and final play of the game. Nowinsky connected on a Fletcher pitch and sent a liner right at Cumby, guarding the line on first. Cumby snared the ball in mid-flight for the first out, stepped on the bag to catch Campos and then threw to Bickerstaff at second to get Luna for a 3-6 triple play to end the game.
The 10-5 win over the Bartlett Lassies moved the Lady Mustangs from Belton to Austin and into the Class A State Championship game against the Hermleigh Lady Cardinals.
ALL PHOTOS BY TAMMY BICKERSTAFF
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.