Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
CHINA SPRING – For the first time in this postseason, the Mineral Wells Lady Rams have started a best-of-three series down 0-1.
Playing in the regional quarterfinals of the Class 3A playoffs for just the second time in school history, the Lady Rams (28-9, 8-2) faltered against the No. 2 team in the state Friday night at China Spring High School, dropping a 14-5 decision to the District 8-3A champion Liberty Hill Lady Panthers.
But don’t say the Lady Rams laid down in this one. The score was anything but indicative of the product on the diamond as the Lady Rams simply refused to quit, constantly chipping away at a sizable Liberty Hill lead and refusing to go away quietly, as they have done all season.
The difference in the game was the top of the second inning. With Mineral Wells leading, 1-0, the Lady Panthers loaded the bases with the help of two Mineral Wells errors before stringing together five consecutive hits and a sacrifice fly from the top of their lineup to go up 7-1 in a disastrous half inning for the girls in red and white.
Yet, it was an entirely avoidable inning, as Mineral Wells had multiple opportunities to retire the side before things got out of hand and failed to execute. In reality, without the second-inning nightmare, the Lady Rams might be looking at a completely different game.
Looking at Friday’s game as a 7-5 loss to the second-ranked team in the state, rather than 14-5, completely changes the complexion of the remainder of the series.
“This is why we play a series,” head coach David Tarver said. “We gave up that seven-run inning early and that kind of put us behind the eight ball. We had multiple chances in that inning to get three outs and give up zero and we just didn’t get it done.
“The biggest thing – and we’ve talked about it all year long – is that wasn’t the end of the game for us. We kept hitting and putting runners on base and kept our heads up and played softball.”
Junior Allie Stephens got the start in the pitcher’s circle and took the loss despite a complete game with five strikeouts to bring her season total to 142. Of the 14 runs she allowed on 18 hits and two walks, only eight runs were earned, further showing that things weren’t nearly as bad as it seemed.
Tarver said Stephens’ performance was one of two reasons why he allowed her to pitch the whole game rather than making one of his trademark, mid-game pitching changes.
“Allie was pitching well,” he said. “We had five opportunities with the first six batters to get three outs in that seven-run inning. We had three bloopers that drove in runs, but it wasn’t the pitching. They didn’t get her timing down all game.
“At the point that it became 9-1, I decided not to make a pitching change unless she was totally gassed, just because I didn’t want to show them both pitchers in the same game. Overall, we had a couple mistakes here and there, but Allie pitched a solid game.”
Mineral Wells got good production at the plate, specifically in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings – during each of which they were able to score runs to chip away at Liberty Hill, refusing to be demoralized.
Bethany Allen, Hope Patterson and Kelsey Keeton each went 2-for-4 at the plate and grabbing an RBI apiece.
Although Friday’s loss was the first to open a playoff series for the Lady Rams this season, Tarver pointed out that it is not historically unusual.
Just last season, the Lady Rams dropped their bi-district opener to Graham, 10-1, before roaring back with two wins the following day to win the series.
A similar thing happened in last year’s regional quarterfinals, when Burkburnett won game one 9-0, only to eke out a victory in game two despite being outplayed by Mineral Wells.
“For some reason, we’ve struggled in the first game historically,” Tarver said. “This team performs better in a three-game series and we’ve got (Saturday) to look forward to.”
Saturday is a new day for Mineral Wells, with a chance to even the series and at least force a rubber match. As Tarver has said many times this year, one of the best strengths of the 2014 Lady Rams is their ability to wipe the slate clean from day to day.
If the way they battled Friday night is any indication, odds are the final score in game two will look significantly different, for better or worse.
“This team is resilient,” Tarver said. “This loss, I can guarantee you they feel it and they know that we let an opportunity slip away. But in the same sense, it’s already in the past. There’s no heads down, no moping around, no sulking, because we know we still have an opportunity to win the series tomorrow. They’re in good spirits and they’re going to be ready to play softball tomorrow.”
First pitch of game two is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at China Spring High School. If necessary, game three will immediately follow at 3 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on QXFM 88.5 FM.