Mineral Wells Index
— By CLINT FOSTER
It took a sixth inning rally to do it, but the Mineral Wells Lady Rams (25-7) earned their first victory of the playoffs, Thursday night at Kessler Field, beating the emotionally-charged Graham Lady Blues, 10-7, to go up 1-0 in a best-of-three series.
Graham played inspired softball – in honor of second baseman Candice Martin who died in a car accident last week – and forced the Lady Rams into a back-and-forth ball game. But, as has become their trademark this season, the Lady Rams never quit and rode a six-run sixth inning to rally from down two and secure the victory at home.
Head coach David Tarver had to pull a few moves out of his bag of tricks, switching pitchers in the fifth inning and swapping multiple position players throughout the game. But in the end, he said he was pleased with the way his girls responded to adversity.
"We had many opportunities to just accept what was going bad at the time," he said. "We made more than our fair share of mistakes, but were able to stay positive and keep working. I had to remind them at one point that this is a game that we love. Our girls are unmistakably better when they're having fun playing the game that they're good at.
"[The sixth-inning rally] is characteristic of this team. Sometimes we're on our game and everything's clicking and sometimes, like tonight, it's a struggle.
"That's the way sports are. It doesn't always work out your way. But these girls did what they do: they stayed positive.
"[The sixth inning] was a key point in the game for us and we executed. This is one of those teams that once they get it going, all that positive energy and emotion just rolls. I never doubt at any moment with this team that they can put an inning together and win a game."
Allie Stephens, who pitched the first four innings of the game, led off the sixth with a single, followed by base hits from Addison Singleton and Anaiz Mendoza – who brought Stephens home – and a walk from Tabby Santibanez.
Bethany Allen drove home two more runs with another single and was able to score herself, along with Santibanez, on Victoria Huffman's ensuing sacrifice.
The cherry on top of the inning was a solo shot from Hope Patterson that careened over the center field wall to put the Lady Rams up comfortably, 10-6. It was Patterson's seventh home run of the season and quite aptly timed.
Sophomore Kelsey Keeton got credit for the win, pitching the final three innings in relief and allowing just two runs (one earned) on four hits and a strikeout.
The Lady Rams will travel to Graham, Friday, for the final two games of the series with first pitch of the first game set for 5 p.m.
Tarver said he expects the same level of emotion and drive from the Lady Blues that Mineral Wells witnessed in game one.
"Life is full of tragedy and loss," he said. "We don't enjoy that, but we have to understand, growing up, how to handle it and how to take the big picture, care for people and love people and still go about your every day life.
"I've warned them all week long that [Graham] would play with so much emotion and we'd have to weather that storm. You saw it tonight. Their fans and their dugout were alive tonight. They were at the top of their game and cheering. Every positive thing that happened lifted them up even more. They're playing for a cause and that's dangerous. Fortunately, we were able to weather that storm tonight.
"We've got a tough row to hoe going into tomorrow. It's not going to be given to us."