BANGS — For the second year in a row, the Bangs Lady Dragons avenged an earlier league loss to earn a share of a district softball championship.
Friday afternoon, in a game called after 5 1/2 innings due to thunderstorms, the Lady Dragons captured a 4-1 victory over Comanche, after the Maidens earned a 3-1 win on their home turf on April 6, to share the 7-3A title.
“This is huge for our program and a very important win for us to get our confidence going in the right direction before the playoffs,” said Bangs head coach Scott Freeman. “We competed hard against them the first game and came up short. It was good to put everything together and come through with a win today.”
Bangs (20-4, 7-1) and Comanche (7-1 in district) will square off at 5 p.m. Monday at Howard Payne to determine the district’s No. 1 and No. 2 playoff seeds. A year ago, Bangs defeated Early in a one-game playoff, which triggered a historic run to the regional finals.
“There are a lot of similarities,” Freeman said. “We had the one district loss and avenged it last year and finished tied. That’s something these girls were a part of or know about. They know there’s something special going on and they proved today if we put everything together we’re a pretty tough team to beat.”
Clinging to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Lady Dragons established significant breathing room with a two-out rally. After Comanche hurler Madison Hagood — who surrendered four runs on five hits with six strikeouts and one walk in five innings — retired Raelee Francois and Courtney Owen, the Lady Dragons delivered their two most crucial hits of the contest.
First, with Erin Anderson attempting to call time at the plate, which wasn’t granted, she laced a first-pitch line drive single off the fence in dead center field. Bangs catcher Taylor Malett followed a few pitches later with a towering two-run home run over the left-center field fence, as the Lady Dragons opened a comfortable 4-1 edge.
“Taylor had a great hit,” Freeman said. “Erin got us started with a two-out rally and Taylor came up with a huge hit and that was awesome. It energized our fan base, energized our dugout and it was really exciting.”
Anderson retired Rachel Ripley and Kendra Gillam on ground outs to begin the top of the sixth, then lightning in the vicinity forced a delay. Shortly after, the bottom fell out of ominous clouds above and the field was drenched, which led to the game eventually being called. With five complete innings in the books, it counts as an official contest.
“We would have loved to have played the game out and you never know what can happen even though we only had four outs to go,” Freeman said. “I was confident with the way Erin was pitching in our ability to get those last four outs. I wish we could have gotten it in, maybe if we had waited longer we could have, but we don’t make those calls.”
Bangs jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first as Francois led off with a double, then Owen reached on error, which allowed Francois to come home with the initial run.
“We hit the ball a little bit last time, but we hit it right to them and they made plays. They’re a very good defensive team,” Freeman said. “What we harped on all week was that we had to put the ball in play and we did a good job of that, especially in the first inning. We got one run in and that showed them that we were ready to play and weren’t going to back down. That set the tone for the rest of the game.”
Comanche pulled even at 1 in the top of the fourth as Hagood led off with a single against Anderson — who gave up one run on six hits with seven strikeouts in 5.2 innings — followed by a Ripley double. With runners on second and third and no outs, Anderson retired Gillam on a pop fly and Riley McGinnis on a strikeout before Jilian Hufstutler came through with a two-out, game-tying RBI single.
Bangs quickly responded in the bottom of the fourth, however, as Haley Pitts singled with one out and moved to second on a base hit by Kenedi Deal. Following a Nichole Spivey ground out, Pitts attempted to advance from second to third. An errant throw on the play allowed Pitts to score from second and gave the Lady Dragons a 2-1 advantage.