By TONY EIERDAM
Mineral Wells Lady Rams head softball coach David Tarver is not afraid to play freshmen.
Two years ago his Lady Rams won a district championship by starting a pair of freshmen, and Tuesday night in the Lady Rams’ 7-6 comeback win over Brownwood, freshman Kelsey Keeton played a significant role.
Not only did Keeton pitch two shutout innings and collect the win in relief, but she also helped in the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning when her ground ball to third base with the bases loaded and no outs turned into an error as senior catcher Reagan Patterson scored to give the Lady Rams a walk-off, one-run win Tuesday night at Kessler Field.
The victory raises the Lady Rams’ overall record to 12-5-1.
The Lady Rams trailed 6-2 before scoring five unanswered runs in the last three innings.
“This was a big win,” Tarver said. “Coming into the game, we hoped we were good enough to beat a team like Brownwood, and coming back to win like that certainly gives us more confidence.
“But it was a team win. Allie (Stephens) didn’t have much luck but still pitched well, and Kelsey came in and gave them a different look.
“The top of the (batting) order came through in the seventh, but we also had a lot of help from the bottom of the order. Tabby Santibanez, hitting from the ninth spot in the order, started us off in the (three-run) fifth with a base hit. In fact, there were several in different players in the order who came up big for us.”
Trailing 6-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Santibanez, starting at second base while regular starter Chandler Ortiz mends a bruised rib, ripped a base hit to left field.
The next batter, all-state shortstop Bethany Allen, reached on an infield hit – her second of a team-leading three hits – to put runners at first and second.
Two batters later, Santibanez scored on a single to right field by sophomore third baseman Hope Patterson.
With runners at second and third, Tarver called a squeeze bunt for Stephens, and she placed a perfect bunt down that plated Allen to cut the Lady Lions’ lead to 6-4.
MWHS added another run in the frame to cut the lead to 6-5 when Keeton drove in Hope Patterson on a sacrifice fly to center field.
Tarver switched to Keeton in the circle in the sixth, and she sent the Lady Lions down in order.
However, Brownwood pitcher Sydney Laws kept the Lady Rams at bay by striking out three consecutive batters in the bottom of the sixth as Brownwood clung to a one-run lead.
Keeton allowed a hit in the top of the seventh, but got out of the inning to allow her team one last chance to tie or win the game.
Brownwood’s chances at winning, however, did not look good as MWHS would bring the top of the order to the plate in the seventh.
Allen and Reagan Patterson each swatted a single before Hope Patterson drove in Allen with a bloop single to right field that bounced safely off the Lady Lions’ right-fielder’s glove.
With runners at second and third and no outs, Tarver tried to win the game by once again calling on Stephens to execute a squeeze bunt. The sophomore laid down a perfect bunt, but there was no throw on the play as Stephens reached to load the bases.
Keeton followed and hit a ground ball to the Lady Lions’ third baseman, but her throw home in an attempt to force out Reagan Patterson sailed over the catcher’s head as Patterson touched the plate to win the game.
“We had contributions from everybody, and that’s what you need to beat a team like Brownwood,” Tarver said. “Brownwood got some early breaks, and we got some breaks at the end.”
Tarver said Stephens threw well despite the no decision. Stephens allowed four earned runs on nine hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in five innings.
“Allie was a pitcher of misfortune,” he said. “Whether it was a lucky bounce or us committing an error here or there, we put her in a bad position at times.
“Allie threw well, was consistent with her pitches, and what I liked best was she was throwing her change up for strikes. That’s hard to do this early in the season.”
Keeton allowed a hit, a walk and recorded a strikeout in two innings.
“Kelsey moved the ball around well and was consistent,” Tarver said. “She threw strikes and forced Brownwood to put the ball in play.”
Brownwood scored two runs in the top of the first frame. MWHS got one of the runs back in the bottom of the first when Keeton drove in Allen with a single to right field.
The Lady Rams tied the game at 2-2 in the second when center fielder Makayla Nance singled and later scored on a base hit from Allen.
Brownwood scored three runs in the third and added a run in the fourth to take a four-run lead.
By TONY EIERDAM
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