AUSTIN — Two victories shy of a state championship, the Early Lady Horns were awakened from their dream.
A season none of the Lady Horns will ever forget concluded in a fashion the Region I-2A champions would just as soon not remember Thursday afternoon at the University of Texas’ McCombs Field.
Making their first-ever appearance in the UIL Class 2A state softball tournament, the top-seeded Lady Horns were dealt a season-ending 3-0 loss by the Region IV champion Hallettsville Lady Brahmas, who advanced to Saturday’s state championship game where they will face Region II champion Brock (32-6).
“If you make it to Austin, you can’t hang your head,” said Lady Horns head coach Bryan Waller following the contest. “You can be upset that you didn’t win it all, but you can’t hang your head. To get here, we had to beat some great teams and get through lots of adversity. We just have to figure out what we can learn from this, get better for next year and get back.”
One of the most explosive offenses in Texas in the Class 2A ranks this season — with 39 runs scored in its first seven postseason games — Early (33-5) fell victim to a no-hitter by Hallettsville’s Cherise Klekar.
“(Klekar) kept us off balance, kept our girls thinking different things and got us out of our game plan,” Waller said. “We just didn’t hit the ball hard like we needed to. We hit the ball to their two best players all game, and when you do that, good things usually don’t happen.”
The Lady Horns managed just three base runners, all of which reached on errors, and none advanced past second base.
Third baseman Kish Suniga reached on a fielding error by Klekar to start the bottom of third inning, while a throwing miscue from Klekar allowed second baseman Bailey Harris to reach with one out in the fifth. Right fielder Julia Loudermilk was the last Lady Horn to reach as a one-out throwing error by Hallettsville (32-9) third baseman Lauren Steffek gave Early faint hope in the bottom of the seventh.
“We got a little break at the end, but we couldn’t get anything else to go with it,” Waller said. “We didn’t hit the ball hard at all, and I know our girls are better than that. If I know the girls, that’s what they are most upset about. They believe they left this game on the field and we should have won it, but we didn’t do the job that we needed to do today.”
Hallettsville, meanwhile, scattered 10 hits off Early pitcher Janna Allen, and the Lady Brahmas were able to string enough together to light up the scoreboard. Allen did record four strikeouts and escaped several potential big innings by stranding 10 base runners.
“Janna pitched her rear off like she always does,” Waller said. “The umpire had a bit of a tight strike zone in my opinion, and that makes it a little harder for her. She tries to do even more when she should just keep doing the same things she’s been doing. But I thought she pitched a great game. Three runs aren’t that bad. We should be able to give her a lot more runs than we did.”
Callie Herrington led the Lady Brahmas with a 2-for-3 effort that included an RBI and a run, while Kellan Werner finished 2-for-4 with an RBI. Timisha North also went 2-for-4 and scored a run, while Emilie Jansky was 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run.
Hallettsville broke the scoreless tie in the top of the second on an RBI sacrifice fly to right field by Jansky, which scored Herrington, who led off the inning with a double to left-center field.
The Lady Brahmas then loaded the bases in the top of the third, but Allen did not permit a run to cross the plate.
In the fifth inning, however, Hallettsville extended its advantage as North reached on a one-out single, then stole second base. That set the table for Herrington’s RBI single up the middle, which staked the Lady Brahmas to a 2-0 lead.
Hallettsville’s final run crossed the plate in the sixth inning. Jansky led off with a single to right field, then Megan Busselman reached on a fielder’s choice when Jansky beat the throw to second base. Haley Leopold followed with a bunt single to load the bases with no outs.
Werner then plated Janksy with an RBI ground out to shortstop Tylene Middleton, but Allen avoided further damage by forcing North and Klekar into shallow fly outs.
Though the season ended on a somewhat sour note, the future looks extremely bright for the Lady Horns. Early will lose just three seniors off this year’s roster — Kayla Dickerson, Brittany Davis and Kendra Clardy — and only Dickerson was a full-time starter during the postseason.
Loaded with returning talent, the Lady Horns could well find themselves back in Austin a year from now.
“The future looks good,” Waller said. “The seniors this year, along with the ones before them, helped pave the way for the girls to get here this year. The ones coming back have a big bulls-eye on their backs as Region I champs, and they have to defend their title next year, and I think they’ll do a great job of it.”
Waller also believes the events of Thursday will help drive the Lady Horns to even greater accomplishments in 2010.
“This should motivate them a bunch,” Waller said. “We’re going to talk right now about what we have to do to make sure this doesn’t happen next year.”