Slocum Returns to State Championship
By Will Johnson
BELTON – The Slocum Lady Mustangs are headed back to the UIL Class 1A State Championship Game in softball after they defeated the D’Hanis Cowgirls on Friday, June 1 by a score of 3-0.
After only losing one starter from last year’s state championship team, the Lady Mustangs had set some pretty lofty goals for this season and now stand on the cusp of hoisting their second consecutive championship trophy.
Jalyn Fletcher was in the circle for the Lady Mustangs and showed why she was selected as last year’s tournament MVP. The junior right-hander gave up a leadoff single to Chloe Cowan and then caught Destiny Rodriguez looking at strike three.
Fletcher’s counterpart – Haley Steubing – was up next and hit into 5-3 fielder’s choice that moved Cowan to second. That would be as far as she would get as Fletcher recorded her second K of the inning when she struck out Cassandra Zerr on a 2-2 changeup.
When Slocum came to bat in the bottom of the first inning, the Lady Mustangs wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard.
Fletcher led off with a single to center and then stole second. Courtney January followed with a looping single into the outfield which advanced Fletcher to third.
Jessi Ives followed with a bunt single between first and second that allowed Fletcher to scamper home with the game’s first run as January took third on the play.
Taylor Clark was next up and lofted a fly ball into right that was just deep enough to give January time to tag up and score while Ives tagged and moved to third.
The fifth batter of the inning was Briley Evers who bunted into a 4-3 force but gave the fleet-footed Ives a chance to sprint home and make the score 3-0.
It seemed like Slocum was about to run away with the game after Kara Cumby singled up the middle and Shelby Bowman reached on an error. On the same play, however, Cumby who was running on the pitch, tried to score but was caught on the base paths for the third out of the inning.
In the second inning, Fletcher ran into trouble. She got Samantha Sauceda to ground out to first for out number one and then fanned Natalie McFadin. Maddison Rhodes followed with an infield single and moved to second on a passed ball.
Danyelle Bernal was up next and drew a walk. Fletcher also walked Shaelyn Nuckles to load the bases but just when it seemed D’Hanis might have the Lady Mustangs on the ropes, Fletcher coaxed a soft chopper back to the circle and then tossed the ball over to first to end the Cowgirls’ half of the inning.
After a rocky first inning, Steubing settled down in the second. She got Slocum’s Bella McNeill to ground into a 6-3 force and then forced Laney Lasiter to ground out to second. Fletcher followed Lasiter in the batter’s box but lined out to center to end the frame.
When Fletcher went back to the circle in the top of the third, she was lights out. First, she struck out Destiny Rodriguez and then Ives made a diving catch to rob a base hit from Steubing. Cassandra Zerr followed in the order and grounded into a 6-3 force to end the D’Hanis third.
The Lady Mustangs also went quietly in the bottom of the third. January led off with a bloop single but was doubled up at first when Ives flew out to the Cowgirls’ right-fielder who turned and fired to first to catch January. Clark was up next and flew out to left to keep the score at 3-0 after three complete.
As the game moved into the middle innings, Fletcher began to dominate D’Hanis. She forced Sauceda to ground out to first but then gave up a bunt single to McFadin. Rhodes followed McFadin in the order and hit into a fielder’s choice to force McFadin at second.
With two outs and a 1-2 count on the batter, Rhodes attempted to steal. Evers, who was behind the plate for Slocum, had different ideas, however, and gunned down Rhodes at the second base bag to end the D’Hanis threat.
Steubing also began to dominate from the pitcher’s circle as she retired the side in order to end the fourth inning. Evers popped up to third for the first out, Cumby grounded out to second and then Bowman fouled out to the catcher to move the game into the fifth inning.
In the fifth inning, Fletcher snuffed out the batting order as she struck out Bernal and then got Nuckles, along with Cowan to ground out.
The Lady Mustangs also struggled at the plate in the bottom of the fifth. McNeill and Lasiter both grounded into a 4-3 force but Fletcher followed with a bunt single. An error on the second baseman allowed January to reach, but Ives flew out to center to end the inning.
With time running out on the Cowgirls’ season, January helped to hasten the end. January caught a liner from Rodriguez, caught a liner slicing away from her – hit by Steubing – and then assisted on a 4-3 force.
Slocum threatened to pad their lead in the bottom of the sixth inning but were unable to scratch out a run. Clark was called out on strikes on a somewhat unusual play. Evers walked but was caught at second when Cumby hit into a fielder’s choice. Bowman followed with an infield single which moved Cumby to second.
A wild pitch from Steubing advanced the runners, but McNeill grounded into a 5-3 force to end the inning.
With three outs standing between Slocum and the championship game, Fletcher shut down D’Hanis. She forced both Sauceda and McFadin to ground out back to the circle and then caught Rhodes looking at strike three to end the game.
Fletcher picked up the win in seven innings. She didn’t allow a run and only gave up three hits. She also walked two and struck out six.
Steubing took the loss in six innings. She gave up three runs on six hits, struck out one and walked one.
At the plate, Slocum was led by Fletcher and January who were both 2-3. Ives, Clark and Evers picked up the three RBI for the Lady Mustangs.
Cowan, McFadin and Rhodes all went 1-3 at the plate for D’Hanis.
The 3-0 win sends the Lady Mustangs into the State Championship game against the Ector Lady Eagles on Saturday, June 2. The game will be played at the Red & Charline McCombs Field in Austin with the first pitch scheduled for 9 a.m.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.