Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
FORT WORTH – The Mineral Wells Lady Rams (23-6, 7-1) took another step toward achieving their ultimate goals this season with an 18-1 shellacking of Diamond Hill-Jarvis to officially clinch a playoff berth, Friday, on the north side of Fort Worth.
The win came in a quick three innings, but the Lady Rams were still able to use some game time to test the waters with different strategies and substitutions in different situations. Head coach David Tarver felt the results were mixed, overall.
"A win's a win," he said. "We were sharp most of the game. That last inning was a little rough, but it allowed us to work on some different stuff in different situations.
"You take every opportunity to work things out in games when they don't matter anymore. We use everything we can as a learning experience to know that when we're in a big game, in crunch time, what we have as options.
"I would have liked to see it end a little cleaner, but you work on things and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The more you know going forward, the better you do in the playoffs."
Behind a solid pitching performance from Allie Stephens, the Lady Rams roared to an early lead with innings of four, eight and six runs. Stephens was on her game, tossing two strikeouts to two hits through the first two innings, but started to lose her command a tad in the game's final half inning.
After starting the bottom of the third with a strikeout, a batter reached on an error and, after a fielder's choice, Stephens would walk the next two batters and score one on a wild pitch. She hit another batter before senior Bethany Allen – who was starting her second straight game at catcher – threw out a runner at third to end the game.
Tarver said the rocky third was the result of Stephens stepping outside her comfort zone, at his behest, and throwing pitches that she usually doesn't rely on.
"We threw a lot of changeups and some more drop balls," he said. "Her bread-and-butter-pitch is her screwball. We work batters hard with that inside pitch, so they start expecting it and then we throw curveballs outside. Then we get them behind in the count and throw risers. The pitches that we throw very little of are our changeups and drop balls. We hardly ever throw fastballs.
"The last couple innings, we threw mostly drop balls and changeups. When you get in a game and a batter's all over a pitch, it's good to know if you can come back with a 3-2 changeup or not. We use games like tonight to find out those types of things."
Many Lady Rams had great nights at the plate. Eliminating any doubt that she was, indeed, out of her hitting slump, Allen was a perfect 4-for-4 with a triple, two RBIs and three runs scored.
Center fielder Tabby Santibanez also had a breakout, perfect night at the plate, going 3-for-3 with four RBIs and three runs scored out of the nine hole. It was her first four-RBI performance of the season and only the second time this year she had bat 1.000 – the first time was against Holiday, March 1.
Also perfect at the plate was Hope Patterson. The third baseman was 2-for-2 with two sacrifice flies, three RBIs and two runs.
First baseman Kelsey Keeton continued to hit for power, finishing 2-for-3 with a double that almost cleared the outfield fence, an RBI and two runs.
Awaiting the second-place Lady Rams in District 6-3A play are their final two games of the season against third-place Springtown and first-place Kennedale.
With Mineral Wells primed to enter the most important part of there schedule in their quest for a district championship, Tarver said the big win, albeit against a weaker opponent, was a good confidence booster for his squad.
"The hardest thing to do is stay focused in a blowout, winning or losing," he said. "They know they're a good team, they work hard and they know how to put teams away. We've just got to continually work on that, stay positive and stay focused at the very end."
The Lady Rams travel to Springtown, Tuesday, where first pitch is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Porcupines' athletic complex. In their previous three meetings with their rivals this year – two of which were in non-district tournaments – the Lady Rams beat Springtown by scores of 9-3, 10-3 and 10-3.
Mineral Wells will undoubtedly be looking to post a similar result at Springtown's home field when it matters most.