Lovelady Takes Down Groveton in Game One, 5-0
By Will Johnson
RUSK – The Lovelady Lady Lions have steamrolled through the first four rounds of the playoffs, outscoring their opponents 82-3. Macie LaRue has been dominant from the pitcher’s circle while their bats have been on fire.
One aspect of their game that has been overlooked, however, has been their defense. Through eight postseason games, the defense has committed only four errors or 0.5 errors per game.
On Thursday evening, Lovelady opened the Regional Finals best-of-three series against the Groveton Lady Indians and the Lady Lions defense was put to the test. After a shaky first inning, the D more than answered the call as Lovelady held off Groveton by a final score of 5-0 to win Game One of the series.
LaRue was back in the circle for the Lady Lions and opened the game by getting Lexi Easterling to pop up to short. Landree Martin reached on an error but Abby Lee popped up to second for out number two. A second infield error allowed Megan Luce to reach, putting runners at first and second. LaRue, however, wasn’t ready to break her scoreless innings pitched streak. She worked Madison Thomas to a full count and then froze her as Thomas watched strike three settle into Morgan Womack’s catcher’s mitt.
When the Lady Lions came in from the field, they took an early 1-0 lead off of Martin who got the start for Groveton. Mihyia Davis led off for Lovelady with a single past second. With Scout Lovell at the plate, she stole second and third. Lovell dropped down a bunt and appeared to beat the throw to first. On the play, Davis scored, however, Lovell was called out.
Haven Prager followed with a strike out while Linda Martinez launched a deep fly to the warning track that Groveton’s center fielder was able to track down for the third out.
In the second, Groveton’s Kieryyn Smith grounded into a 4-3 force while Shelby Arnold lined out to Lovell at short. LaRue recorded the final out as she got Tatum Porter to swing and miss on strike three.
The Lady Lions also went quietly in the bottom of the second as Womack flew out to deep center while Rylee Biedrzycki popped to left and LaRue popped to center.
The third inning gave a glimpse of why Lovell might be the best shortstop in the state. Bailee Reed slapped a shot to Lovell at short that she fielded cleanly. Her throw to first was a little low but when Prager tried to scoop it, the ball rolled out of her glove.
Easterling followed with a grounder to Lovell who gloved he ball and stepped on second. Martin was up next and hit a rope to Lovell who caught it and fired to Prager at first for a double-play to end the Lady Indians’ at-bat.
Lovelady extended its lead in third as Bailee Albinus led off with a single to center. Shyanne Pipkin sacrificed her to second and when Davis lofted a deep fly to left, Albinus tagged up and moved to third. Lovell was up next and was intentionally walked.
Prager was up next and made Martin pay for the intentional walk. On a 2-0 pitch, Martin got a little wild, allowing Lovell to move up a base. Now, with two outs and two runners in scoring position, Prager came through in the clutch as she blasted a double into the left field gap. Both Albinus and Lovell crossed the plate to put the Lady Lions up 3-0. That was all the Lady Lions would get, however, as Martinez grounded out to end the inning.
As the fourth inning got underway, three defensive plays changed the complexion of the game and took the wind out of the Groveton sails. Abby Lee led off with a hit that went to the wall. Davis, playing at medium depth in center, showcased her speed as she raced back to get the ball down and held Lee to a single when it should have been a double. Stormie Hensley came in to run for Lee and made it to second when Luce grounded into a 1-3 force.
The second play saw Lovell knock down a hard-hit grounder from Thomas. When Thomas hit the ball, it had RBI written all over it. Lovell ranged to her right and knocked the ball down, freezing Hensley at second. Thomas reached safely, but Lovell’s play likely kept the Lady Indians off the scoreboard.
Lovell wasn’t through, however. The next batter was Smith and she smoked a pitch just to the third base side of second. The Lovelady shortstop, who was moving on the play, snagged the Smith liner in mid-air and beat Hensley to the bag at second for an unassisted double-play to end the inning, crushing the Groveton scoring threat.
Lovelady went quietly in the bottom of the frame while LaRue worked a 1-2-3 top of the fifth. When the Lady Lions came up to bat in their half of the inning, they padded their lead. Kinzie Seale led off for Lovelady but struck out.
Davis was up next and reached on an infield single. At that point, the Lady Indians changed pitchers as Luce took over in the circle. With Lovell at the plate, Davis stole second and moved to third when Lovell flew out to left.
Prager followed with a walk and then the Lady Indians tried to get cute. With Davis at third, Prager broke for second. The Groveton catcher pretended to throw to second but the shortstop slipped behind the pitcher to snag the ball. Davis broke for home and it was no contest as the bronze medalist in the Class 2A 100m easily beat the throw home.
Martinez was up next and just missed one as she flew out to deep center. Still, the Lady Lions had extended their lead and were now up 4-0.
In the sixth, LaRue gave up a leadoff single to Easterling but then fanned Martin and caught Lee looking as strike three sailed by. Luce popped up for the third out to end the Groveton sixth.
Womack led off the bottom of the inning and she was more than ready. On the first pitch she saw, Womack launched a shot that left no doubt as it was still climbing when it cleared the fence in dead center.
Shelby Arnold was then brought on in relief and she shut down the Lovelady bats to send the game into the seventh.
Things got a little dicey in the top of the seventh for LaRue. Thomas led off with a 6-3 groundout, but Smith drew a walk. She moved to second on a passed ball while Arnold reached first when she was hit by a pitch.
With runners at first and second and only one out, LaRue took over. She fanned Porter on five pitches and then got Bailee Reed to swing and miss on strike three, ending the game and giving Lovelady a 1-0 series lead.
The two teams were back at it again on Friday afternoon but as of press time, a final score was unavailable.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].