Victory Sends Lovelady to Regional Finals
By Will Johnson
RUSK – The Beckville Lady Cats are still wondering what happened. They were ranked #5 in the May 13 Texas Girls Coaches Association Poll and they were scheduled to play an unranked team in the Regional Semifinals.
The Lady Cats probably assumed the best-of-three series against the Lovelady Lady Lions would be a walkover and they would move onto to the Regional Finals to face the winner of the West Sabine/Harleton matchup.
A funny thing happened on the way to the fifth round of the postseason, however. Beckville ran into arguably one of the best pitchers in Class 2A – MiMi Sandoval – and the Lovelady freshman quite simply dominated the Lady Cats.
In Game One of the series, she didn’t allow a run in eight innings of work. As a matter of fact, Sandoval only allowed two batters to reach base via a hit and a walk, in the Lady Lions’ 7-0 victory.
In Game Two, she was equally as dynamic, as once again, Sandoval only allowed one hit and one walk as Lovelady defeated Beckville by a score of 3-1 to advance to the Regional Finals next week.
Think about those numbers for a moment. Sandoval pitched 15 complete innings and gave up one unearned run on two hits and two walks. In addition, she struck out 31 batters or 10.1 innings of Lady Cat hitters.
The Lady Lions and Lady Cats returned to Rusk for Game Two on Thursday, May 16 and Sandoval picked up where she left off in Game One. She caught both Madisyn Bridges and Kinley Pepper looking for two quick outs.
Her counterpart for Beckville, Ally LaGrone, was up next and she struck out swinging to end the top of the first.
When Lovelady came in from the field, LaGrone seemed a little shell-shocked from the seven runs she gave up in the eighth inning of Game One.
Jacy Stubblefield led off for the Lady Lions and drew a walk from LaGrone. She advanced to second on a Makayla White bunt and the two baserunners advanced a base when LaGrone uncorked a wild pitch.
Linda Martinez followed in the batting order, but popped out to first. Sandoval was up next and she hit a pop fly to shallow center. The ball was just deep enough to allow Stubblefield to tag up and slide into home head-first with the game’s first run.
On the play, White also tagged up and moved to third. Amber Mikes followed Sandoval to the plate and on a 1-1 pitch, she slapped a double into the centerfield gap which allowed Mikes to scamper home.
Erin Sample was next in the order and was hit by a pitch. Just when it seemed like LaGrone was about to implode, however, she regained her composure to strike out Bailee Albinus to retire the side.
The second inning saw Sandoval continue her mastery of the Beckville hitters as struck out Shelley Pierce and Jaden McDaniel while she coaxed Sarah Gray to hit into a 5-3 force to bring the Lady Lions in from the field.
While LaGrone seemed like she was on the rocks in the first inning, she appeared to have regained her composure by the time Lovelady came up to bat. She got Rylee Biedrzycki to ground out, gave up a base knock to Macie LaRue and then retired Stubblefield, along with White,to send the game into the third inning.
When Sandoval took the pitcher’s circle in the third, she recorded two quick outs but then issued a walk to Haley Straubie. As it turned out, the walk was meaningless as Bridges flew out to center on the first pitch she saw in her at-bat.LaGrone had an easy third inning and then both pitchers worked a 1-2-3 fourth.
As the game moved into the fifth, Beckville did something they hadn’t done in 12 previous innings – the Lady Cats scored a run.
McDaniel led off the inning with a single to left. Gray followed with a bunt but an errant throw to first allowed McDaniel to motor around the bases and cut the Lovelady lead in half at 2-1.
On the play, Gray advanced to second. Kiyah Wellborn came in for her as a courtesy runner. Allison Baker was up next and she laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Wellborn to third.
After that, Sandoval slammed the door on any hopes of a Beckville comeback.
She forced Anna Kruebbe to foul out down the first base line and then rang up Straubie on her 11th K of the game.
Lovelady struck back in their half of the fifth. White drew a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice from Martinez. Sandoval was up next and also drew a walk to put runners at first and second with one out.
Following the walk, Shyanne Pipkin came in as a courtesy runner for Sandoval. Next up was Mikes and she attempted to move White over to third with a bunt. Unfortunately, the ball was hit a little too hard and the Lady Cats were able to throw out White at third base but Pipkin moved to second on the play.
Sample drew a walk to advance the runners and then Albinus delivered a single to left which plated Pipkin and made the score 3-1. With the base still loaded, Biedrzycki stepped into the batter’s box but was unable to keep the inning going
as she grounded back to the circle for the third out.
It’s been said that defense wins championships and the Lady Lions showed they have a solid “D” in the sixth inning. On a 2-2 count, Sandoval made one of her few mistakes in the series and Bridges very nearly made her pay with what initially looked like an extra base hit.
It’s always helpful to have speed in the outfield and Stubblefield showed why she was chosen play centerfield and to run the 200m for Lovelady. At the crack of the bat, Stubblefield was off. She was shaded a little to left before the pitch and had more ground to make up than normal, but make it up she did.
As the ball began to drop from the sky, it appeared to be tailing off towards right. At the last moment, Stubblefield dove for the yellow sphere and snagged it just before it hit the ground for the first out. After rolling over, she popped up and did a little celebratory jig with left-fielder Biedrzycki.
Two pitches later, it was Biedrzycki’s turn. Pepper lofted one to left that initially looked like it would drop, but the wind held it up just long enough for the left-fielder to track it down and make the catch for the second out.
After seeing her tfielders showcase their talents, Sandoval showed a little of her own as she struck out LaGrone on four pitches to retire the Beckville side in order.
In the bottom of the sixth, LaGrone gave up a lead-off single to LaRue but then retired the next three batters she faced to send the game into the seventh inning.
Now, with only three outs remaining between the Lady Lions and a trip to the Regional Finals, Sandoval struck out both Pierce and McDaniel.
Then, it was time for a little more defensive help. On a 0-1 count, Gray hit the ball just out of Sandoval’s reach. It looked as if it might go for an infield hit, but Albinus came charging in from her shortstop position to field the slow roller, then threw a frozen rope over to Mikes at first to nip Gray by a step and send the Lady Lions to the Regional Finals with a 3-1 win.
The Lady Lions won the series against the Lady Cats by a 2-0 margin thanks to the spectacular pitching of Sandoval, timely hitting by Lovelady and solid defensive play.
On the game, Sandoval picked up the win in seven innings. She gave up one run (unearned) on one hit, struck out 13 and walked one.
LaGrone pitched well but took the loss in six innings of work. She gave up three runs on five hits, struck out six and walked five.
Lovelady will play the winner of the West Sabine/Harleton series which, as of press time, had not concluded.
Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.