WICHITA FALLS — In a game that featured 19 runs, 24 hits, 11 errors, 20 runners left stranded on the base paths and one additional inning, an alert defensive play allowed the Bangs Lady Dragons to grab control of their Region I-2A softball semifinal series against the Bushland Lady Falcons.
With Bushland’s Bree Romo at third base with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning following a leadoff double, Lyndsee Kimmons slapped a ball into shallow left field that barely reached the grass. But there awaiting the pop fly was Bangs left fielder Raelee Francois, who made the snag and then fired to third baseman Courtney Owen to double up Romo, who was already halfway to the plate, for the game-ending double play as Bangs prevailed, 10-9, in Game 1.
“For left-handed slappers, I always scoot up, but I never thought the ball was going to come to me,” Francois said. “When it did, I caught it and was hoping Courtney was there, and she was.”
Bangs head coach Scott Freeman said, “That was a heads up play by Raelee because I forget to tell her to come in and that was a coaching mistake by me. I’m glad she’s an intelligent girl and moved up on her own.”
At the time, however, the fact that the game had just ended had not registered with the Lady Dragons, whose celebration was momentarily delayed.
“I was so excited, but everyone was just standing there for a while when it was over,” Francois said, “so I thought it was just two outs and we had to get one more. I was telling myself to calm down and finish the game.”
In the top of the eighth inning, Francois was also the unlikely hero at the plate as she gave Bangs the lead for the fourth time — and this time for good.
Erin Anderson led off the eighth with a double to center field, then moved to third base on Cheyenne Edwards’ ground out. Still on third with two outs, Anderson scored what turned out to be the decisive run when Francois hit a looping line drive to shallow left field that got past Kimmons and rolled to the fence.
“I swung at the first strike and missed and was kind of down on myself,” Francois said. “I looked at Coach Freeman and he told me ‘you’re better than that, you can do it,’ and that made me believe in myself a little more. When I hit it, I just took off running. I was so excited, that’s only my second triple of the year. Normally I don’t hit like that.”
Friday’s victory was the 10th in a row for Bangs (25-3), which will attempt to advance to the regional championship round for the first time when the series resumes with Game 2 at noon today at Mustang Park on the campus of Midwestern State University.
The Lady Dragons jumped out to a 5-1 lead after two innings, but Bushland (28-6) surged in front with five runs in the bottom of the third. Bangs reclaimed an 8-6 edge in the top of the sixth, but Bushland drew even in the bottom of the frame. In the seventh inning, the Lady Dragons again moved in front, 9-8, but the Lady Falcons countered with the tying run in the bottom of the seventh.
“We just kept coming back from adversity,” Freeman said. “We talked about how, if we got ahead, Bushland is way too good for us to get content. I don’t know that we got content, Bushland just hit the ball really well and we were lucky enough to match them run for run the whole game. We just have to figure out how to close a little better tomorrow.”
Tied at 8 going to the seventh inning, the Lady Dragons attempted to secure the victory in regulation as Kady Kyle legged out a double with one out, then scored on a two-out RBI triple by Jaylee Roberts that sailed over the head of Kimmons in left field.
In the bottom of the seventh, Katie Welch drew a leadoff walk against Anderson — who yielded six earned runs on 11 hits with two strikeouts and four walks over eight innings. With two outs, leadoff batter Matti Dix singled up the middle to even the score.
Down 6-5 in the top of the sixth inning, Bangs reclaimed the lead as Sarah Garcia doubled with one out, Roberts reached on one of seven Bushland errors and Owen drew a walk — one of five issued by hurlers Taylor Cates and Abby Guerrero.
Anderson then grounded to shortstop, but the throw home short-hopped the catcher, allowing Garcia to score the tying run. Edwards then drew a bases-loaded walk, which plated Roberts and put Bangs back in front, 7-6. Maddie Browning followed with an RBI ground out that scored Owen.
Again Bushland answered as Carrie Oyebi came through with a two-RBI single to knot the score at 8 in the bottom of the sixth.
The first three Lady Dragons to step to the plate all reached on errors — Kyle, Garcia and Roberts — which led to Bangs’ first two runs. Owen chipped in an RBI single to plate Roberts during the three-run first inning.
Bangs extended its lead to 5-1 in the second inning as Roberts came through with a two-out, two-RBI single to left field that brought home Haley Pitts, who also singled to left, and Kyle, who walked.
Bushland surged in front, 6-5, with a five-run third inning highlighted by a three-run home run from Welch. Ashton Miller added an RBI single in the inning, and Bangs also committed one of its four miscues, which allowed a run to score.
The Lady Dragons’ 12-hit assault featured three hits and a trio of RBIs from Roberts, two hits apiece from Anderson and Francois and one each by Kyle, Garcia, Owen, Edwards and Pitts. Kyle also drew a walk and scored three runs, while Garcia and Roberts crossed the plate twice. Owen, Anderson, Edwards and Browning also drew walks.