WHITEWRIGHT — The Leonard softball team has been close to the playoffs before, finishing one spot out of the mix each of the last three seasons. They again find themselves on the verge of breaking a 17-year drought, although this time they now have a bit of breathing room.
“Just making the playoffs, that was our initial goal,” Leonard head coach James Fielden said. “We haven’t locked that up yet but we’re pretty close.”
Charley Ashworth drove in two runs and Claudia Ware was 2-for-4 and scored twice to help Leonard to the precipice of the postseason after a 7-4 victory over Whitewright in District 10-3A action on Friday afternoon.
“We knew we had to win this one to have a chance for third,” Fielden said. “The top of our lineup has been pretty good all year. We’ve got it back in a groove.”
Leonard (18-5, 6-4) broke the third-place tie it held with Whitewright (13-9, 5-5) and guaranteed no worse than a play-in game at the end of the season. A victory against Farmersville on Tuesday would clinch Leonard’s first playoff appearance since 2000.
Whitewright is also nearing a spot in the postseason — needing only a win and a Farmersville loss in the final two games. It also is just one win from guaranteeing at least a play-in opportunity.
Despite never trailing, Leonard had to wait out the victory. The middle of Whitewright’s order brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh.
“They do a good job hitting the ball, especially the front half of their lineup,” Fielden said. “We had a little bit of a cushion.”
Sage Harlow, who was 3-for-4 and scored twice, led off with a single and Macie McLean had a two-out hit. Kate Phillips hit a fly ball to left but wasn’t a threat to tie the game.
Leonard manufactured an insurance run in the top of the sixth when Destiney Strain started the inning with a walk, stole second, went to third on a groundout and scored on Ashworth’s sac fly to center.
Whitewright had sliced the deficit to 6-4 in the bottom of the fifth. The bases were loaded after Hannah Mangrum’s leadoff walk, Hannah Williams was hit by a pitch and Harlow singled behind second base. Zada Swoopes grounded into a force at home but then Jaidyn Melichar followed with a grounder to second that forced Ashworth to have to run to the bag for the force.
Harlow never stopped running from second and notched the second run on the play.
It was a much-needed rally after Leonard took a 6-2 lead in the top of the inning. Bridget Watson led off with a triple to the left-center gap and Ashworth drove her in with a single. After a forceout and a single by Taylor Stricklin, Charity Cummings had an RBI hit to left and an error on the play allowed Stricklin to score.
Grace Clark had a two-out RBI single following a Melichar double in the bottom of the second to pull Whitewright within 3-2.
Leonard took a 3-1 lead in the second with a two-out rally. Katlyn Brooks singled around a pair of outs and Strain, in the nine hole, singled to keep the inning alive. Ware drove in a run with a single to right and she took second on the throw home. Then on the attempt to get Ware, Strain raced in with a run.
“We’re going to try to be aggressive on the base paths, force the issue,” Fielden said. “If we can force you to make a mistake we’re gonna try.”
The teams traded first-inning runs. With two outs, Ware singled and Stricklin reached on an error. The throw to try and get Ware at third bounced away and she scored.
Whitewright got the run back in the bottom of the frame when Harlow scored on an error. A bigger inning was wasted with a pair of outs on the bases.