The ball was hit on a line to left field and could have been trouble, except it landed snugly in Elizabeth Linwood’s glove.
In the moments after she clasped her mitt shut with the final out there was no doubting who was the best team in District 5-5A.
With the schedule down to its final days and the Denison Yellow Jackets having lost only once in 11 games, the program’s first district championship in 11 years was clinched with a 7-1 victory against Denton Ryan in a 5-5A make-up game at Denison on Wednesday night.
Jaydan Hunt was 2-for-3 with three RBI — including a two-run single during the four-run sixth that blew the game open — and scored twice while allowing a run on seven hits.
“She’s been doing special things for us all season,” Denison head coach Mike Garcia said. “She’s been big the past four years.”
It was the third district title for Denison (15-11, 10-1) and the first since 2006. Last year the Lady Jackets won only eight games the entire season and just two in district play. But there was a feeling of confidence that kept building with each 5-5A victory.
“I don’t think we ever thought we were the top team,” Hunt said. “If we grinded and worked hard we could be that top team. That’s how we approached it.”
The loss dropped Denton Ryan (17-9, 8-3) into a second-place tie with Sherman going into the final day of the season. The Lady Jackets visit Sherman on Friday while Denton Ryan takes on Wichita Falls Rider, which can clinch fourth place with a victory over a team it already beat.
Had the Lady Raiders beaten Denison, it would have had a chance at the district title and the top seed for the playoffs as well as a potential three-way tie for first place. Instead they could only manage one run — unlike the seven they scored in beating the Lady Jackets in the first meeting.
“The last couple weeks we started looking into the future,” Garcia said. “We told them this would be the biggest game, besides the playoffs, because we had a chance to win district and the top seed. It was going to come down to three teams — us, Denton Ryan and Sherman and that’s what happened. We just had to take care of business.”
The seventh inning turned into a bit of a scare despite the big lead but Hunt squashed the big comeback attempt.
Cecily Rodriguez and Harper Hughes opened the frame with singles and Abby Buettner reached on an error when Danielle Sullivan went to tag Rodriguez instead of the third-base bag and the ball fell out of her glove to load the bases for cleanup hitter Jaden Hoelker.
Hoelker had a chance to tie the game in the fifth with a runner at second but left her stranded. This time, after a second chance when catcher Jaci Garvin let a foul pop drop, she left all the ducks on the pond with a pop-up to Hunt just outside the circle.
Brianna Leeds then popped up to second base and Molly Williamson then lined out to Linwood.
Hunt was in the middle of giving herself some breathing room as Denison held a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning. Shayla Love bunted with one out and reached on an error to bring up the top of the order.
Kaylee Walters doubled on the first pitch to right field and courtesy runner Haley Earnhart held at third. Kayla Daugherty bunted and Williamson, the first baseman, threw home as Earnhart anchored at the base.
Linwood grounded back to Leeds, who got the force at home for the second out. Hunt then delivered a hit to double Denison’s lead.
“I had to think from my second at-bat to not be antsy,” Hunt said, referring to a strikeout. “Just get a base hit. That’s all I needed was a base hit.”
Olivia Marr then grounded to third but hustled down the line as the throw sailed high and to the fence. Both Daugherty and Hunt scored to make it 6-1, a crushing blow to the Lady Raiders down to their last six outs.
“These girls had done a great job all season hitting the ball,” Garcia said.
Denton Ryan almost got some of that back in the sixth with a one-out single by Williamson and a two-out walk by Katie Munoz. But Hunt induced a groundout to short by Savanna Phillips and Daugherty went the short way for the force at third.
The Lady Jackets manufactured a run in the bottom of the inning when Garvin singled up the middle, went to second on a groundout, was sacrificed to third by Love and then scored on a two-out wild pitch.
Before Denison’s outburst, Ryan put the tying run at second in the top of the fifth when Rodriguez worked a walk. Hughes sacrificed her over but Buettner flew out to center and Hoelker popped to second.
“Me being able to get that outside corner and them trying to pull it helped me out a bit,” Hunt said.
It was a nip-and-tuck first four innings after both teams scored in the first.
Rodriguez opened the game with a hit by pitch, then stole second, went to third on a groundout and scored on a groundout to short by Buettner.
Denison immediately jumped back in front with a two-out rally. Linwood reached on an error and Hunt barely missed a homer in front of the scoreboard in left, settling for an RBI double. She scored when Marr reached out and hit a ball to second that Phillips mishandled.
The defensive play of the game came in the top of the fourth and kept Ryan from at least tying the game. Center fielder Yvette Moreno made a diving catch to end the inning on a sinking liner by Phillips with a runner going on contact from first.