Sandoval Allows Two Base Runners in Eight Innings
By Will Johnson
RUSK – Despite the final score, through seven innings of play the Lovelady Lady Lions and the Beckville Lady Cats, were in the midst of a bona fide pitcher’s duel.
In the eighth inning, however, errors by the Lady Cats and some timely hitting by the Lady Lions allowed Lovelady to capture Game One of the two teams’ best-of-three Regional Semifinals series by a score of 7-0.
The Lady Cats sent Ally LaGrone to the pitcher’s circle and LaGrone had a fairly easy first inning. She got Jacy Stubblefield to bunt back to the circle for the first out, walked Makayla White and then got Linda Martinez to fly out to centerfield.
Two pitches later, White attempted to steal second but was gunned down by Beckville catcher Sarah Gray to end the top of the first inning.
When the Lady Lions came in from the field, they countered with their ace pitcher – MiMi Sandoval – and the freshman delivered more than Lovelady could have hoped for.
It only took her 13 pitches to strike out the side as Madisyn Bridges, Kinley Pepper and LaGrone all went down swinging.
LaGrone got a little pay back when she went to the pitcher’s circle to open the second as she caught Sandoval looking at strike three. Amber Mikes was up next and made it to first on an infield error. That was as far as she would get, however, as Erin Sample unsuccessfully chased a third strike while Bailee Albinus grounded into a force at second.
Sandoval picked up where she left off in the first as she struck out the side for the second inning in a row. This time, it took her 16 pitches as Shelley Pierce, Jaden McDaniel and Sarah Gray simply couldn’t figure out the weapons in Sandoval’s pitching arsenal.
While LaGrone wasn’t as dominating as Sandoval, she was just as effective. Opening the third inning, she caught Sarah Thompson swinging at a pitch out of the strike zone for a K and then forced Rylee Biedrzycki to ground into a 5-3 force.
Stubblefield connected for a single into left and took second on an error. On the next pitch, she stole third but was stranded there when White popped up to end the inning.
The Lady Cats still had no clue at the plate when they came to bat in the bottom of the third. On a positive note, however, Beckville’s Allison Baker finally made contact with a Sandoval pitch. Unfortunately, she popped up a bunt attempt and Sample was right there to catch it for the first out. After that, Sandoval struck out Shelby Lindsey and Haley Straubie to retire the side.
As the game moved into the fourth inning, Lovelady threatened once again, but LaGrone managed to work her way out of trouble. Martinez led off for the Lady Lions and was hit by a pitch. Sandoval was up next and bunted into a fielder’s choice which caught Martinez at second base.
Mikes drew a walk from LaGrone to advance Sandoval to second, but Sample struck out while Albinus popped out to first to end the Lovelady threat.
The bottom of the fourth saw Beckville continue to struggle at the plate. Bridges lined out to first and then Sandoval rang up Pepper on five pitches. As an encore, she struck out her pitching counterpart on three.
Through four innings of work, Sandoval had faced 12 batters, struck out 10 and had not allowed a ball to leave the infield. On the other hand, LaGrone had allowed five base runners but managed to keep Lovelady out of the scoring column as the game moved into the fifth with the score still tied at 0-0.
Both LaGrone and Sandoval retired the side in order in the fifth inning. Beckville, however, finally hit the ball out of the infield as Gray lined out to left to send the game into the sixth inning.
In the top of the sixth, LaGrone was efficient to say the least. She needed two pitches to retire White and only one pitch to send Martinez back to the dugout. It did, however, take her five pitches to strike out Sandoval to end the Lovelady half of the sixth.
Beckville finally managed to get a base runner in the bottom of the inning as Sandoval walked Baker to lead off the sixth for the Lady Cats. While the walk broke up her perfect game, Sandoval struck out the next batter she faced and then doubled up Baker at first when Straubie popped up a bunt to the pitcher’s circle. Sandoval caught the ball in mid-flight and fired to first to catch Baker for the third out.
The game moved into the seventh inning and it appeared as if neither team was willing to give an inch. LaGrone retired Mikes and Sample for two quick outs, walked Albinus and then got Thompson to line out to short.
After six complete innings, Sandoval had faced the minimum number of batters she could face – 18 – and still had not given up a hit. She coaxed Bridges to ground into a 5-3 force at first but then she finally gave up a base knock to Pepper who lined a pitch into right.
With a runner at first and the game on the line, Sandoval took matters into her own hands. She struck out LaGrone and then got Pierce to watch as strike three caught the outside corner of the plate for the final out in regulation play
Despite playing seven solid innings of softball, the Lady Cats cracked in the eighth. Biedrzycki led off with a single and moved to second when Stubblefield dropped a bunt which was booted for an error. White followed with a bunt of her own, but Biedrzycki was thrown out at third as she tried to advance.
On the play, Stubblefield moved to second while reached first safely. On a 2-0 count to Martinez, Stubblefield strayed too far off of the bag and the Lady Cats had her in a rundown. Somehow, Stubblefield managed to get back to second and when she did, she noticed no one was covering third.
Alertly, she broke for third and when the throw was mishandled, Stubblefield sprinted home and slid headfirst across the plate with the game’s first run.
Martinez was still in the batter’s box as the Lady Lions took a 1-0 lead. She singled into left to move White to second. Sandoval was up next and slapped a shot hit into deep right field which plated White, moved Martinez to third and made the score 2-0.
On the throw in from the outfield, Sandoval took second base. Once the play concluded, Shyanne Pipkin came in as a courtesy runner for Sandoval. Mikes was up next and laid down a bunt. LaGrone fielded the ball, looked the runners back but was unable to catch Mikes at first.
With the bases loaded, Sample settled into the batter’s box and was hit by a pitch. This forced in Martinez and made the score 3-0. A walk to Albinus pushed Pipkin across the dish and when Thompson singled, Mikes trotted home from third to make the score 5-0.
Biedrzycki, who led off the inning, was up again and she also singled to drive in Sample. Stubblefield followed in the order and lofted a high fly ball to left. Albinus tagged up after the catch and scored, but on the play, Thompson was thrown out at third to end the Lovelady half of the eighth.
Nevertheless, the Lady Lions managed to prove the scoreboard in Rusk really did work as they took the field with a 7-0 lead.
Up by seven, Sandoval didn’t let up in the least. She caught McDaniel looking as strike three whizzed by. She then closed out the game with swinging strikeouts of Gray and Baker.
Sandoval recorded the win with eight innings of spectacular pitching as she shut out the Lady Cats. She only gave up one hit and one walk while she struck out 18.
Aside from the eighth inning, LaGrone pitched well in the loss. She gave up seven runs (one earned) on seven hits, walked four and struck out six.
Game two of the series was scheduled for Thursday, May 16.
Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.