ALEDO — Junior hurler Sydney Laws and the rest of the Lady Lions kept No. 17 Kennedale off the scoreboard during regulation, but the Lady Kats eventually scratched across a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to end Brownwood's season, 1-0, in a one-game Region I-3A softball area playoff here Saturday afternoon.
"I couldn't have asked for more today from them," said Lady Lions third-year head coach Amanda Sheffield. "To go eight innings with the No. 17 team in the state is phenomenal. All I wanted was for them to come out here and play with confidence and they did that. They did what was asked of them, but it just didn't go our way. I told them that's how life is sometimes, but this game doesn't define them. The character and the confidence they showed up with today defines them."
The three-time defending District 5-3A champion Lady Lions (20-6) and District 8-3A runner-up Kennedale (22-10) were originally slated to play a best-of-three series in Mineral Wells, but a hail storm Friday night resulted in both a move and modification of the meeting between the two squads.
In a textbook pitchers' duel that featured 24 strikeouts between Laws and Kennedale left-handed pitcher Allison Turner — a dozen by each — the Lady Lions were limited to a single hit, while the Lady Kats mustered seven, including three in a span of four batters in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Laws, the two-time reigning 5-3A MVP, finished the season with 212 strikeouts and a mere seven walks in 143 innings of work.
"I told Sydney before the game out of every pitcher in the state I wouldn't pick any other to be on the mound today, and I meant it," Sheffield said. "She came out here and gave it her all and left her heart out there. She really stepped up as a leader today and it showed."
Kennedale's Aubrey Wooden began the eighth with a seeing-eye single that alluded the grasp of Brownwood second baseman Nathalie de la Torre and rolled into right field. Mackenzie Bay then laid down a bunt which was fielded cleanly by Lady Lion third baseman Cherita George, who first attempted to fire to second base to retire the lead runner, but the bag was not covered. George then opted for the out at first base, but Bay beat the throw.
Turner then grounded into a fielder's choice to shortstop Larisa Salazar, who retired Wooden at third base. Jazlyn Crowder followed with a towering fly ball to left field that drifted into foul territory just before clearing the left field wall. Two pitches later, however, Crowder slapped a single back up the middle that allowed Bay to race home from second base with the only run of the contest.
Brownwood managed just one base runner through the first five innings — a leadoff walk by Laws in the top of the second — before putting two runners on base with one out in both the sixth and seventh innings.
"We just struggled all day with the outside pitch," Sheffield said. "That's been our struggle all year. She also had a rise ball and at times we weren't disciplined to lay off it. I do think we made huge strides in our discipline at the plate today, but at times we couldn't lay off her. She did a great job of standing up and making a statement for her team as well. We just struggled."
With one out in the sixth, Lady Lion center fielder Aspen Escamilla hit a sinking line drive that short-hopped the glove of Kennedale second baseman Cheyenne Trotter, who bobbled the ball and did not get the throw to first base on time. Salazar then followed with a grounder to third, but the throw was dropped at second base, setting up Brownwood with its first chance to score.
Catcher Sydnie Darden followed with a fly ball to right field for the second out, then de la Torre's line drive to center field was hauled in on a shoestring catch by Bay to end the threat.
In the seventh, George drew a one-out walk and Kathryn Walker followed with a floater over third base on a drawn in Kennedale infield for Brownwood's lone hit. Alyson Finnigan then stepped to the plate and hit a bullet line drive to Lady Kat first baseman Amber Sather, who beat Walker back to the base for an ending-inning double play.
"We had the perfect opportunity to score, we just struggled at the plate," Sheffield said of the sixth and seventh innings. "We struggled on making a solid connection, so we left those people stranded. Any other day we could have scored them, but today wasn't our day."
The only other scoring threats occurred in the early stages of the game and belonged to Kennedale. In the bottom of the first, Crowder and Sather reached on back-to-back two-out singles, but Laws struck out Kayla Jones to escape the jam. Then in the third, Bay reached on a bloop one-out double down the right field line, but Laws struck out Turner and got Crowder to ground out to second to avoid further trouble.
Saturday's game concluded the careers of the Lady Lions' three seniors — Darden, de la Torre and Salazar — each of whom will playing NCAA Division III college ball.
"The most crushing part for me is to know that those three aren't going to be out on the field with us again," Sheffield said. "They've meant a lot to the team, and personally they're good kids that can lift you up if you're having a bad day. I would like to think I taught them something, but they teach me something every day. The relationship with them, I'm going to miss that, but I told them today they have bigger fish to fry and they have great things in store for them. I really believe that, but they will be dearly missed."