EARLY — Having already secured a 20th consecutive postseason berth, the Early Lady Horns kept their hopes of a District 6-3A softball championship alive with a 10-1 victory over the Dublin Lady Lions in Friday's home finale.
The Lady Horns (23-5, 10-2) remained a game back of 6-3A co-leaders Eastland (24-3, 11-1) and Comanche (17-6, 11-1), who square off against each other Tuesday. Early will then travel to Comanche Friday after journeying to Coleman (13-11, 7-5) Tuesday.
Regarding the 20th straight trip to the playoffs, Early head coach Alfonso Chavez said, “This program has been successful and I've been able to be a part of it for six of them. These girls just keep on coming and building the tradition every single year. Nobody wants to miss out.”
In the win over Dublin, the Lady Horns briefly trailed 1-0 in the top of the third inning as Rianna Turner reached on a leadoff infield single and later scored on an RBI double by Tayleigh Pendleton that deflected off the glove a back-tracking Kailee Love in deep center field.
Laiken Reagan — who surrendered six hits, struck out seven and walked two — left a pair of Lady Lions stranded on second and third base as Dublin was unable to add to its advantage.
“Laiken controlled the ball very well today,” Chavez said. “She was hitting her spots and overall she did a heck of a job today. Hopefully we gained momentum for next week and the playoffs.”
In the bottom of the third, Emma Loven drew a one-out walk, then East Texas Baptist University-bound Sydnee Shea pushed Early in front for good with a two-run homer over the center field fence. Shea added an inside-the-park homer in the fifth, which increased the lead to 5-1.
“Sydnee is a key player and she gets us going on offense,” Chavez said. “Her bat is something else, and she'll be really good when she gets to the next level.”
Prior to Shea's second homer, the Lady Horns added two more runs in the fourth inning. Vance Cady Gordon led off with an infield single, then Emily Rodriguez walked. With one out, Love laid down an RBI sacrifice bunt that allowed Gordon to score, but not before a collision at the plate. As the ball trickled away in the commotion, Rodriguez also came home.
Early carried a 5-1 edge into the sixth inning where it doubled its run total and fell just shy of enforcing the 10-run mercy rule.
Gordon reached on an error to start the sixth, then Jenna Whitehead followed with a single. Gordon was able to score from third base following a strikeout that required a throw down to first base to secure the out. Love then followed with an RBI infield single that drove home Whitehead. After a walk by Loven, Shea ripped a line drive to shortstop that wasn't fielded cleanly, which plated Love. Reagan's RBI ground out knocked in Loven, while Taylor Summers reached on a fielding miscue that permitted Shea to cross the plate.
Friday's game was the last at home for Early's five seniors — Shea, Reagan, Loven, Rodriguez and Whitehead.
“The senior girls, all of them have been with me for four years and I'm going to miss them,” Chavez said. “They're going to be hard to replace.”