Mineral Wells Index
By TONY EIERDAM
Never count this group out.
After Mineral Wells suffered a demoralizing 10-1 loss at Graham to begin this best-of-three Class 3A, Region I bi-district softball playoff series on Friday night – and knowing that Graham had beaten them twice during the regular season – one could not blame the Lady Rams if they had entered Saturday’s game two at Mineral Wells with little confidence.
Graham had smacked the ball all over the yard on Friday, and in the two previous games between the two teams the Lady Blues had swatted five home runs from four different players.
But on Saturday - needing to sweep a team that had beaten it three times this season – the Mineral Wells Lady Rams gutted out a 9-7 win to tie the series and held off a late Lady Blues’ rally for a 6-5 win in the deciding game three to win the series Saturday at Kessler Field.
The Lady Rams will advance to the area championship where they will face Hillsboro, a team MWHS eliminated from the first round of the playoffs last year.
Game dates, times and locations were not available at press time. Check www.mineralwellsindex.com for the information.
Football likes to lay claim that it is a “game of inches,” but Saturday in the final inning of game three that claim transfered to the softball diamond.
The Lady Rams had jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the deciding contest and held leads of 5-1 and 6-2. But Graham came back with three runs in the fourth to cut the Lady Rams’ lead to 6-5.
That score held as the game moved to the bottom of the seventh (Graham won the coin flip before game three to determine which team batted last) with the Lady Blues needing a run to tie the game.
Graham slugger Tanisha Reeve, who had already recorded five hits in the series, led off the frame and lined a long shot toward right field that appeared to be a sure home run that would have tied the game.
But the ball stayed on a line and hit the top of the fence, just missing going over by mere inches. In fact, the ball was hit so hard and the MWHS outfielders were playing so deep that Reeve had to stop at first base.
Now Graham was in command with the leadoff batter on with no outs. The next batter, Lyndsey Cottongame, hit a line drive up the middle that seemed like a sure base hit. But seemingly out of nowhere MWHS all-state shortstop Bethany Allen dove to her left and caught the line drive, then quickly turned and fired to first base to double up Riley Zimmer, who was running for Reeve.
The next batter grounded out as the jubilant Lady Rams rushed the field to celebrate their bi-district championship.
Another reason MWHS was able to take a pair of games form Graham was its outfield, a unit that suffered errors and mistakes in Friday’s nine-run loss.
The Lady Rams’ outfield turned into a strength in games two and three, consistently getting to tough fly balls, including a catch by center fielder Victoria Huffman as she backed into the centerfield fence.
Lady Rams head coach David Tarver said he had a “heart-to-heart” talk with the team immediately after game one.
“We had a long talk after Friday’s game, and I told the outfield that their mistakes were my mistakes, and that we were all in this together,” he said. “I told them I love them all no matter what, and they came back (Saturday).
“We lost our composure a little (on Friday), and got a little frustrated. I just told them to get it back together and play like you can (on Saturday).
“We won game two to force a third game and came away with a one-run win. BB (Allen) made a huge play in the seventh in game three, and all of the girls have done a great job. It’s a great group of kids who love the game.
“I just sat back and watched them play. They weren’t rattled after Friday and they just were focused on winning the next game.”
Senior catcher Reagan Patterson saw a similarity from a playoff series two years ago when the Lady Rams routed Iowa Park in Mineral Wells in game one of a best-of-three bi-district series only to lose consecutive one-run games – and the series – at Iowa Park on a Saturday.
“I think we really play well at home, and I was talking to (senior second baseman) Chandler (Ortiz) and we did not want this to be the last day of our high school softball careers,” Patterson said. “We knew we could beat them, and I never doubted my team for one second, despite what happened (Friday) night, that we couldn’t beat them twice. I knew we could do it.”
Lady Rams 9, Graham 7
The Lady Rams broke open a tight game with five runs in the fifth inning to take an 8-2 lead. Patterson swatted her 10th home run of the year in the first inning.
The big play in the frame was an error by Graham that plated two MWHS runners. Kelsey Keeton and Makayla Nance each drove in a run in the inning; Ortiz scored after a run down between third base and home; and another Graham error led to a run.
Allie Stephens was the winning pitcher, with Keeton earning the save with a strikeout to seal the victory.
Lady Rams 6, Graham 5
MWHS jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the first inning of game three. Huffman drove in a run on a perfectly-executed squeeze bunt, and Ortiz drove in a run on a bunt single. Two other runs came as a result of Graham errors.
The Lady Rams tacked on a run each in the second and third innings to take a 6-1 lead. Graham scored four unanswered runs to set up the dramatics of the final inning.
Again, Stephens was the winning pitcher with Keeton recording a save.