Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
SPRINGTOWN – Nobody said it would be easy. But despite an energized opponent and a rowdy hometown crowd that lived up to its reputation, the Mineral Wells Lady Rams (24-6, 8-1) made the best of their long-awaited final trip to Springtown and beat the rival Lady Porcupines, 16-5, on senior night, Tuesday.
With the win, the Lady Rams secured a 4-0 season sweep of Springtown to remain alone at second in District 6-3A as they bid goodbye and good riddance to the land of "Pojo" as a district foe.
"It felt really good to beat them after the way their fans acted all night," junior pitcher Allie Stephens said. "I think we're all glad to not be going back to Springtown for district games."
Although the Lady Rams run-ruled Springtown in six innings, the game was filled with a good deal more drama than the score would indicate.
Mineral Wells jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but quickly found themselves down, 2-1, early for the first time in almost a month when Springtown answered with two runs on four straight hits with one out in the bottom of the frame.
Sophomore Kelsey Keeton had only been in the pitcher's circle 1/3 of an inning when head coach David Tarver decided to pull the trigger and send Stephens in to pitch.
"I was excited to go in the when he asked me to," Stephens said. "I've pitched to Springtown multiple times, so I was confident in going in and being able to do my job. My screw balls and curve balls were working good for the called strikes I needed and then they helped me out by swinging at rise balls and my change ups."
Stephens – who started in Mineral Wells' previous three wins over Springtown by 9-3, 10-3 and 10-3 – made short work of the inning with back-to-back outs and threw three shutout innings before Springtown took advantage of some errors to put three runs on the board in the fifth. She finished with a glowing stat line, including 10 strikeouts and three runs on two hits and a walk through 5 2/3 innings.
"I thought the momentum needed a change and it worked," Tarver said of the pitching change. "Kelsey was pitching good. She was hitting her spots, they just had the timing at the time and were putting the ball in play. I'm confident Kelsey would have pitched a terrific game, but that was a pure strategy decision.
"They had a little momentum. It was senior night, they were all amped up and you could see it. I thought it was a momentum-breaker. It had nothing to do with the effectiveness of pitches or pitching.
"I was actually going to put Kelsey back in the last two innings to show them how much better she is than them. We just jumped on them and she never got a chance to warm up again, so it didn't work out that way."
Stephens' effort was helped by the way the Lady Rams' bats came to life, scoring in five of six innings, including a five-run second and 6-run sixth to put the game away.
Many girls hit well on the night. Bethany Allen was 2-for-5 with two triples, two RBIs and two runs and Hope Patterson was 2-for-3 with a sacrifice fly, two RBIs and a run.
Ashley Valdez was also 2-for-3 with a double and three runs and Anaiz Mendoza finished 2-for-4 with two stolen bases, two RBIs and two runs scored.
But no Lady Ram was as impressive on offense as Tabby Santibanez, who batted 1.000 out of the nine hole for the second game in a row, finishing 4-for-4 with five RBIs and three runs.
The .303 batter has been on an absolute hitting tear since the month of April began. In her past three games, Santibanez has gone 8-for-9 – an .889 average – with 11 RBIs and no strikeouts.
When the Lady Rams can get that kind of production from all over the lineup, they are nothing short of lethal.
Tarver was pleased with the way his team was able to respond to adversity, offensively and defensively.
"It's something that hasn't happened to us in a while: being down early," he said. "It was good to see again, especially right before the playoffs. It was a run-rule, but it wasn't just a beat-down from the start. We had some adversity in there. Great situations and great stuff going into the playoffs."
Perhaps of equal adversity to the events on the field were Springtown's notorious fans, who were fired up – to say the least – from the first pitch to the final gun. Head baseball coach Bret Barrick later remarked that he could hear the ruckus from the softball field throughout the entire baseball game.
But, much to Tarver's delight, his girls kept their cool under pressure and used the hostile environment as motivation.
"You always tell your teams, 'Stay on the field, between the lines. Don't let outside factors affect the way you play,'" Tarver said. "But the great thing about this group is that stuff kind of feeds into our girls and makes them play harder. It doesn't affect them mentally in a way that's distracting to them. They focus more and it feeds their fire.
"It's not fun coming and playing in situations like that, but going into the playoffs, having a hostile, loud environment is a good situation to play in. It's a good way to prepare ourselves."
With the hard-fought win behind them, the Lady Rams have but one game left on the regular season schedule to look forward to: a home rematch against the second-ranked team in the state, the Kennedale Lady Cats (20-6, 9-0).
In their previous meeting – a battle for first place in District 6-3A, March 28 – Mineral Wells fell in Kennedale, 8-3. But if the Lady Rams can best the 'Cats at Kessler Field, Friday, it will force a tie-breaker game to determine the district champion.
Tarver said the Lady Rams are up for the challenge.
"I'm excited about Kennedale," Stephens said. "I think we have the ability to beat them. We just have to come together as a team and do our jobs."
First pitch of the heavyweight fight is set for 7:30 p.m., Friday, at Kessler Field. It will be senior night for the Lady Rams.