By TONY EIERDAM
In softball, a close game between two good teams can be decided by a play or two.
The Mineral Wells Lady Rams learned this Thursday night in a District 6-3A matchup with the state-ranked No. 3 Kennedale Lady Kats that decided which team would be alone in first place at the halfway mark of league play.
Kennedale took the lead on an unearned run in the first inning and took advantage of two MWHS near misses on its way to a 4-1 win at Kessler Field.
Despite the loss, the Lady Rams can still play for a co-district championship in the final district contest of the year April 19 at Kennedale.
“The game was a lot closer than the score indicates,” Lady Rams head coach David Tarver said. “We had two errors in the first inning and gave up an unearned run, and if we make a play here or there in the (fifth) inning where they scored three runs would have possibly cut the lead down to one or two runs.
“That was the ball game in a well-pitched game.”
Kennedale 6-1 pitcher Katie Leeds took the win for the Lay Kats, allowing three hits – and just one that left the infield – with one walk and 10 strikeouts in seven innings.
But the big positive for the Lady Rams was that freshman pitcher Kelsey Keeton stood toe-to-toe with Leeds and was not intimidated in the least by the powerful Kennedale bats.
Keeton allowed three earned runs on eight hits with one walk and two strikeouts.
Kennedale scored a pair of runs in the fifth frame on two hit balls that could have been caught but just missed the outstretched arms of the hustling MWHS outfielders.
“Kelsey was not intimidated at all,” Tarver said. “She has played a lot of softball in her life and has probably played in tougher situations.
“Kelsey was hitting her spots and moving the ball well.
“She did not throw a flat pitch, and she did a good job of working the corners and making them guess where she was going to pitch the ball.
“She does a good job of mixing it up and keeping the batters off balance.”
Tarver was pleased with his team’s competitiveness and realizes the loss to Kennedale does not destroy the Lady Rams’ chances at obtaining a team goal.
“Regardless of what happened (Thursday), if we take care of business through district like we did in the first half of district we will be playing them in Game 10 for a district championship,” Tarver said. “We lost (Thursday) so it will be for a co-district championship.
“You don’t want to split it – you want to win it outright – but now we have a split in front of us and that is our goal.”
After Kennedale’s unearned run in the top of the first inning, the game turned into a classic pitching duel.
Keeton threw consecutive shutout innings before running into trouble in the fourth.
But with runners at second and third with only one out, the Lady Kats could not produce a run.
Keeton struck out a batter and a third out was registered when all-state shortstop Bethany Allen cleanly fielded a hard-hit ground ball and quickly threw to first base for the out that ended the inning.
Leeds was also outstanding in the circle. She sent the Lady Rams down in order in the second and third frames, and in the fourth was gifted with a batter’s interference call that produced two outs to end the inning.
Kennedale scored three runs in the top of the fifth inning to for a 4-0 advantage.
The Lady Kats hit two balls that found their way into the outfield for base hits as MWHS narrowly missed catching the batted balls.
Three consecutive hits to begin the frame produced a 2-0 Kennedale lead, but the big blow came on a single that drove in a pair of runs for a 4-0 advantage.
In the fifth inning, the Lady Rams got their only hit that saw the outfield when Keeton ripped a line-drive single to center field with one out.
Leeds got the next batter to strike out, but Molly Clarke reached on a single to pit runners on first and second with two outs.
But Leeds forced a ground out to the next batter to get out of the inning.
The Lady Rams went into the seventh inning needing four runs, and they caught a break when Hope Patterson led off with a walk, Leeds only free pass of the contest.
But Leeds retired three consecutive batters to preserve the win and put the Lady Kats all alone in first place.
By TONY EIERDAM
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