By Will Johnson
AUSTIN – It was an early start for the Slocum Lady Mustangs on Saturday, June 3 as the girls of the diamond took on the Hermleigh Lady Cardinals in the Class 1A Softball State Championship game.
The Lady Mustangs had defeated the Bartlett Lassies by a final of 10-5 in the State Semifinals on Thursday afternoon, June 1 at the Dee Dillon Softball Complex on the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor campus.
Following their win over the Lassies, the Lady Mustangs traveled to the Red and Charline McCombs Field on the University of Texas-Austin campus for a morning title game.
The first pitch was scheduled for 9 a.m. and while it was an early wake-up call for both teams, it appeared as if the girls from Slocum were the only ones to get any sleep the night before as they hammered the Lady Cardinals by a score of 10-0.
Jalyn Fletcher was in the pitchers circle for Slocum and was electric from the start. She threw five shutout innings, allowed six hits, struck out three and didn’t walk anyone.
Her pitching opponent from the Lady Cardinals was Kelsey Digby. Digby only lasted 2.2 innings as she gave up nine runs on five hits and walked six. She was relieved by Morgan Kariainen who pitched the final 1.1 innings and gave up a run on two hits.
Slocum was the home team and Fletcher made quick of the Lady Cardinals’ batting order. She struck out Brienna Robertson – swinging – and K. Digby – looking – to open the game. After allowing a single to Lillyan Digby, she coaxed a ground out from Aaliyah Sneed to end the inning.
The Lady Mustangs who scored less than 10 runs only once in their playoff run, continued their offensive onslaught when they came to bat in the first.
Fletcher led off with a walk and moved to second after Courtney January reached first on an error. A Jessi Ives groundout advanced the base runners. After Makayla Bickerstaff popped up for the second out, a passed ball brought Fletcher home and moved January to third base.
January scored on a wild pitch and after back-to-back walks to Taylor Clark and Briley Evers, Kara Cumby drove in Clark to make the score 3-0 after one inning of play.
As the second inning unfolded, Fletcher found herself in a jam. She gave up a base knock to Amanda Long to lead off the frame but then got Morgan Digby to swing at strike three and forced a fly ball out from Brishaya Sneed.
A single from Kami Smith moved Long to second and after Brittany Martin was hit by a pitch from Fletcher, the bases were loaded with the top of the order coming to the plate. Robertson worked a full count out of Fletcher but on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, she lofted a high fly ball to right centerfield that Shelby Bowman was able to track down for the third out.
In the bottom of the second, the Lady Mustangs tacked on a run to increase their lead to four. Laney Lasiter grounded out to open the Slocum at-bat and was followed by Fletcher who reached on a fielding error. A single from January moved Fletcher to second and a double steal put the two Lady Mustangs in scoring position.
Jessi Ives was up next and dropped down a bunt in front of the plate that allowed Fletcher to scamper home. Digby managed to limit the damage to just the one run and then tried to rally the Lady Cardinals with a lead-off double to start the third. Hermleigh was unable to take advantage of the extra-base hit, however, as L. Digby fouled out to third, while A. Sneed grounded back to Fletcher who threw to Cumby at first for out number two.
On the Sneed groundout, K. Digby took third but was stranded there when Long hit into a 5-3 force to end the top half of the third.
In the State Semifinals against Bartlett, the Lady Mustangs used a five run fourth inning to put the game away. Perhaps because of the earlier start time of the title game, Slocum was head of schedule and didn’t wait for the fourth inning to roll around as they exploded for five runs in the bottom of the third.
Clark led off the Slocum half of the frame a single to left. She moved to second when K. Digby walked Evers. Christy Dunnam came in as a courtesy runner for Evers and moved to second when Cumby hit into a fielder’s choice at third for the first out.
Bowman walked to load the bases and when Lasiter reached on a fielder’s choice, Dunnam scored. Bowman was called out at second on the play, while Cumby moved to third. Lasiter swiped second and moved to third when Fletcher singled past second base to drive in Cumby.
Fletcher stole second and on an ill-advised throw, Lasiter scored which allowed Fletcher to take her place on third base. January was up next and plated Fletcher with a single up the middle.
With the score 8-0, Ives reached on an infield single which moved January to third. A walk to Bickerstaff loaded the bases and spelled the end for K. Digby in the pitcher’s circle.
She was relieved by Morgan Kariainen who promptly gave up a RBI single to Clark as January touched the plate for the fifth run of the inning and made the score 9-0.
After Kariainen finally recorded the third out on Evers fly ball to left, the Lady Mustangs knew the game was in hand. Fletcher retired M. Digby on a bunt and B. Sneed on a grounder to second. Following a single by Smith, Kariainen popped up to end the top of the fourth.
In the bottom of the inning, the Lady Mustangs added another run to extend their lead to 10-0. Cumby popped up to second to lead-off the inning, but Bowman followed with a double down the leftfield line and advanced to third on a passed ball.
Lasiter followed Bowman in the order and hit a sacrifice fly to right which allowed Bowman to tag up and score.
Fletcher was up next and grounded out to end the inning but when she returned to the circle with a 10-0 lead to start the fifth inning, she knew only three outs stood between the Slocum Lady Mustangs and a state championship.
The first batter she faced in the top of the fifth inning was Robertson who popped out to second. K. Digby singled to left but L. Digby flew out to Bowman in left centerfield. Now, only one out away from the title, Fletcher wasted no time as she got A. Sneed to ground out to end the game and earn the Lady Mustangs the right to the lay claim to the title of State Champion.
After the Lady Mustangs had been crowned as the UIL Class A State Champions, the All-Tournament teams were released.
Jalyn Fletcher was selected as the Championship Game MVP as well as the All-Tournament First Team pitcher. In addition, five her of her Slocum teammates were also selected to the First Team All-Tournament squad. They were: Briley Evers at catcher; Kara Cumby at first base; Courtney January at second base; Shelby Bowman in centerfield and Taylor Clark in left field.
Other members of the All-Tournament First Team were: Bartlett Lassie De’ljiah Pope at third base; Hermleigh Lady Cardinal Lillyan Digby at shortstop; Hermleigh Lady Cardinal Sandra Carr in right field; and Dodd City Lady Hornet Madelyn Underwood as the utility player.
From all of us at The Messenger – congratulations to the UIL Class A Softball State Champion Slocum Lady Mustangs.
ALL PHOTOS BY TAMMY BICKERSTAFF
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.