Lovelady 7 Como-Pickton 6
By Will Johnson
WHITEHOUSE – Since going a combined 6-10 in the first two series of the 2021 postseason, Lovelady’s Erin Sample had struggled at the plate. She went a combined 1-8 against the Joaquin Lady Rams and in Game One of the Lady Lions’ best-of-three Regional Semifinals series against the Como-Pickton (CP) Lady Eagles, Sample was 0-3, with three strikeouts.
After Lovelady clawed its way back into the game to tie it at six in the bottom half of the sixth, it looked like the contest might be headed for extra innings on a damp Thursday night. Macie LaRue, however, had struck out the side in the top of the seventh to give the Lady Lions a chance to win it in regulation.
Linda Martinez led off Lovelady’s final at-bat with a pop-up to the Lady Eagles’ pitcher, Mattison Buster, while Haven Prager followed her to the plate and struck out swinging. Morgan Womack was up next and singled to left, bringing Sample up to bat.
Buster had simply befuddled Sample at the plate so far in the game. She had thrown nine pitches to Sample and the newly minted LHS Class of 2021 Valedictorian had only managed to get a piece of two, both foul balls.
On the first pitch Buster threw to Sample in the bottom of the seventh, however, things changed. Sample turned the tables and ripped a shot into center field. With two outs, Womack was running on the pitch and when the ball got by the center fielder, Coach Jordyn Hester nearly dislocated her shoulder waving Womack around third.
As the throw from the outfield came in, Sample rounded the bag at second while Womack crossed the plate with the game-winning run as the Lady Lions poured out of the dugout to celebrate the 7-6 Game One win.
While Lovelady pulled it out in the end, for most of the game it appeared as if the Lady Eagles might be the team to come out on top.
Mimi Sandoval got the start for the Lady Lions and seemed to struggle with her control. She struck out Faith Watkins to open the game but followed with a walk to Chloe Romero. Maci Wright was up next and she hit a grounder to short where Scout Lovell made a nifty little play to snag the ball and throw to second for the second out of the inning.
Up next was Buster who was intentionally walked. The sophomore pitcher was not only a dynamic presence in the pitcher’s circle but leads all of Class 2A in several hitting categories, including homeruns.
Following the intentional walk to Buster, Sandoval walked Addi Monk to load the bases. Sandoval then walked Katie Morgan to push Romero across the plate, giving the Lady Eagles the early 1-0 lead.
After Sandoval fanned Alyssa Corona to end the top of the first, the Lady Lions evened the contest in the bottom of the inning.
Scout Lovell led off for the Lady Lions and popped up to second. Jacy Stubblefield was up next and the speedy senior legged out an infield hit and then stole second. Sandoval fanned, but Linda Martinez came through with a clutch double to drive-in Stubblefield from second and tie the game at one. Haven Prager followed in the order but struck out to bring the frame to a close.
In the top of the second, the Lady Eagles recaptured the lead. Sandoval hit Hannah Pegues with a pitch and then hit Summer Gilbreath, as well. Watkins was up next and on a 1-2 pitch, Sandoval made a mistake as Watkins blasted a 3-run bomb over the fence in left center to give CP a 4-1 lead.
That was all she wrote for Sandoval in the circle as Coach Hester brought in Macie LaRue. She retired Romero on a pop up and got Wright to ground out to second. Determined not to let Buster beat the Lady Lions, LaRue intentionally walked her and then got Monk to ground into a 5-3 force at first.
Once again, the Lady Lions scratched out a run when they came in from the field. Womack grounded to short but a throwing error allowed her to reach first safely. Womack stole second and then third but Sample and Rylee Biedrzycki both struck out.
That brought Makenna Pierce to the plate and on a 1-0 pitch, Buster got a little wild allowing Womack to scamper home and cut the Lady Eagles’ lead to 4-2. Pierce eventually drew a walk and then stole second. Unfortunately, she was stranded there when Lovell fanned to end the inning.
LaRue struck out the side in the top of the third while Buster only gave up a single to Martinez before getting Prager to fly out to left to end the frame.
CP threatened in their half of the fourth after a pair of errors allowed Watkins to make her way to third. LaRue struck out Gilbreath to open the fourth inning but followed with a walk to Watkins. An error at first allowed her to move to second but LaRue came back to strike out Romero for the second out. A second error in the infield allowed Watkins to move to third.
With Wright at the plate, Watkins strayed a little too far off the bag and Womack fired down to Sample at third. Watkins reversed course but Sample threw home to Womack who applied the tag to end the top of the fourth.
The Lady Lions went quietly in the bottom of the inning as Buster forced LaRue to pop out to second while she struck out Sample and Biedrzycki.
As the game moved to the fifth inning, the Lady Eagles extended their lead to four as they plated a pair of runs to make it 6-2.
Wright was back at the dish to lead off the fifth and drew a walk. Buster followed her and was intentionally walked for the third time. Kara Tifft came in as a courtesy runner for Buster and when Monk slapped a shot to short it was booted for an error, Wright and Tifft both came around to score.
A bunt from Katie Morgan moved Monk to third while Morgan took second on the play. LaRue shook off the damage, however, as she buckled down to strike out the next three hitters she faced end the CP threat.
Now down by four with time running out, the Lady Lions responded in a big way as they scored three times to cut the lead to 6-5.
Pierce led off the bottom of the frame and struck out looking to bring Lovell to the plate. After fouling off the first pitch, Lovell watched the second pitch of her at-bat go by for a strike. On the next pitch from Buster, however, the game changed.
Lovell rocketed a shot back to the circle that hit Buster square on her thigh and bounced away. Lovell reached first but it was obvious Buster was hurt. To her credit though, she took a few moments to re-group and returned to the circle.
With Stubblefield at the plate, Lovell stole second and third. Stubblefield drew a walk and she also stole second. Coach Hester subbed in Sandoval for an at-bat and it proved to be a wise move. Sandoval lined a single into center, driving in Lovell and Stubblefield to make the score 6-4.
LaRue came into to run for Sandoval and after Martinez struck out, LaRue stole second. A wild pitch moved her to third and when Prager singled to left, LaRue trotted home to make the score 6-5. With Womack at the plate, Prager stole second and third. Womack drew a walk and she also stole second, but that was as far as the two baserunners would get as Sample struck out on three pitches to end the fifth.
As the game moved into the sixth, a dicey coaching gamble paid off for the Lady Lions. Watkins walked to lead off for CP, but Romero flew out to center. An infield error allowed Wright to reach and brought Buster to the plate. Coach Hester decided to roll the dice and intentionally walked Buster for the fourth time.
This time, however, it loaded the bases with only one out. LaRue was up to the challenge though, as she struck out Monk on four pitches and then got Morgan to swing at a pitch out of the strike zone to end the Lady Eagles’ threat.
The Lady Lions tied it up in the bottom of the sixth as Biedrzycki led off with a double to center. Pierce struck out and then Lovell sacrificed Biedrzycki to third. That brought up Stubblefield who lined a triple into the right field gap to drive in Biedrzycki and even the score at six apiece.
That would be as far as she would get as LaRue fanned to end the frame. The strikeout seemed to motivate LaRue when she got back to the pitcher’s circle as she struck out Pegues, Corona and Gilbreath to set the stage for Sample’s heroics.
After two quick outs, Womack singled and then Sample delivered the game-winning hit to drive in Womack as Lovelady came from behind to win Game One by a final score of 7-6.
Game Two was played on Friday, but as of press time, the final score was unavailable.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COVER PHOTO COURTESY of JUSTIN DOBBINS