Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
The Mineral Wells Lady Rams (14-3) got everything they hoped for and more in the opening day of the Mineral Wells Tournament, Thursday, at Kessler Field. They swept the competition in a triple-header and dealt with a wide variety of situations, overcoming each.
The Lady Rams started off tournament play with a bang, routing the Weatherford Lady Roos, 14-0, in just four innings.
It didn't take the Mineral Wells offense long to get rolling. Three consecutive walks loaded the bases with no outs in the first, followed by an outfield error and RBI singles from Ali Stephens and Ashley Valdez.
By the time Weatherford could stop the bleeding, the Lady Rams had scored five runs in the first. After that, they never looked back.
As the Lady Rams built their lead, they quickly found themselves in a position to win the game by run rule. Up 9-0 with the bases loaded and one out, Victoria Huffman stepped up to the plate with a chance to effectively end the game. She delivered, smacking a two-RBI single to put the Lady Rams up 11-0.
For good measure, Hope Patterson crushed the ensuing pitch for a three-run homer over the center field fence, leading the officiating crew to call the game at 14-0.
Pitcher Kelsey Keeton turned in a masterful performance in the shutout, posting back-to-back 1-2-3 innings to start the game and a total of six strikeouts. Only three Lady Roos reached base against Keeton on a walk, a single and an error.
Playing shortstop and catcher throughout the game, senior Bethany Allen turned in the first of many solid performances, going 2-for-4 with a single, a triple and two walks.
Next up for the Lady Rams was a rematch against the only team that beat them in the Wichita Falls Tournament last week: the Iowa Park Lady Hawks. It was a test of adversity for the Lady Rams, who clawed back from a 4-1 deficit in the fifth inning to win, 5-4.
Iowa Park got off to a quick start with back-to-back singles to start the game, but Pitcher Allie Stephens limited the damage and the Lady Hawks got out of the first with three hits and only one run to show for it.
Iowa Park scored again in the third, but the Lady Rams answered when none other than Stephens smacked an RBI single in the fourth to make the score 2-1 in favor of the Hawks.
After a two-run home run in the top of the fifth, it seemed the Lady Rams were in trouble. But Mineral Wells began to rally in the bottom of that frame, taking advantage of key mistakes and ultimately scoring two runs to make the score 4-3.
In the following inning, a single and consecutive errors tied the score at four. With one out, Allen was inched away from a home run when Iowa Park's center fielder barely grasped the ball at the fence. The long fly however allowed Addison Singleton to tag up and score, giving Mineral Wells the 5-4 lead going into the seventh.
Stephens sealed the deal with a strikeout and the Lady Rams' second win of the day was in the books.
For Stephens, it would be the first of two wins on the day. Against Iowa Park, she allowed eight hits, but was consistently able to get herself out of tough jams. She also threw eight strikeouts, seven of which came in the first four innings.
For the grand final of the first day of the tournament, the Lady Rams did not disappoint, winning a back-and-forth battle with future district foes Abilene Wylie, 8-7 in extra innings.
This time, it was the Lady Rams who, once again, jumped out to a sizable lead. After a scoreless first inning, Mineral Wells went on a tear in the second beginning when Singleton drove Ashley Valdez home on an RBI triple. The Lady Rams would bat around their order in that half inning, posting a 6-0 lead by the time it was through.
But the Ladies of Wylie showed their mettle and beganthe long climb back in the bottom of the second, scoring two runs on a triple and two singles. They gradually chipped away at the Mineral Wells lead until the score was 6-5 with no outs in the fifth.
Until that point, Keeton had done a good job holding the scrappy Bulldogs at bay. But with two runners on base and no outs, head coach David Tarver decided it was time for a change and leaned on Stephens once more.
Stephens couldn't stop the surging Bulldogs but slowed them in the next two innings. Heading into the seventh, the score was 7-6, Wylie.
But Mineral Wells battled back. Two-out singles from Singleton and Anaiz Mendoza put runners at first and third and set the stage for Tabby Santibanez to deliver. Her RBI single tied the game at seven, and after Stephens retired the side, the competition was pushed into extra innings.
In the eighth, Victoria Huffman ran out a bunt to reach first and, an out later, it was Keeton that brought her home with an RBI single.
The score was now 8-7, but the Lady Rams weren't out of the woods just yet. In the bottom of the eighth, it would take more late game heroics from Santibanez to close things out, as she grabbed three fly balls in deep center field to preserve a 1-2-3 inning and the game.
Stephens got credit for the win, but she was first to credit her teammates.
"My screwballs were working, but I had a great defense behind me," she said. "They did awesome."
Tarver said having the ability to rotate Stephens and Keeton when necessary has been a huge plus for his team.
"They both have a different enough style of pitching that if one gets in trouble, we can bring the other one in and the batters have to adjust to them," he said. "That's worked very well for us the past two seasons. It's great to know that when one gets in trouble, the other can come in and shut it down."
Overall, Tarver said he got everything he could have asked for from the first day of the Tournament. His team saw virtually every possible game situation against some quality opponents and always endured.
"It was a good day," he said. "When you go to tournaments and you're looking for work and situations, we got every bit of it in this one day. Playing from behind, playing with a lead, losing a lead and having to come back, I mean it was a good day for team building."
The team building continues today for Mineral Wells in the second day of the tournament when they face Brownwood at noon and district rival Springtown at 4 p.m.