PROSPER — Tom Bean’s game wasn’t at its sharpest Thursday night in the Class 2A Region II softball semifinals, but the Lady Cats and ace Annie Bailey will gladly take the result.
It was a game of highs and lows for Bailey, but in the end the senior was able to overcome bouts of wildness and pitch the Lady Cats to a 3-2 win against Valley View at Prosper High School to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three series.
“Ninety percent of the time you don’t win games like that,” Tom Bean head coach Lance Cherry said. “But our kids battled it out.”
Bailey scattered four singles and struck out 14, but also walked eight and struck a batter with a pitch. Five of the walks and the hit batter led off innings, putting the Lady Cat defense under pressure.
“Annie had high end and low end … and we did some silly things,” Cherry said. “I feel like we didn’t play our smartest game, and we made ourselves grind it out when we didn’t need to. Any time you give free passes, that puts more pressure on you and it puts more pressure on Annie to have to go out and strike out 14.
“What it shows is an intense amount of guts for someone to be at that point and not roll over and be a fighter, and that’s what she is. She beared down when she needed to and made the plays.”
In Bailey’s first playoff game as a freshman three years ago on the very same field, she pitched a three-hitter and struck out 14 as Tom Bean upset defending state champion Pilot Point in a one-game bi-district walk-off win, also by a 3-2 score.
This time, the circumstances were different thanks to a third-inning uprising that put Tom Bean (23-3) ahead to stay.
With Valley View up 2-1, freshman Taylor Williams, who had earlier singled and scored, laced a ball into left with wicked spin that bounced away from Valley View leftfielder Molly Stobaugh, allowing Williams to stretch a triple.
“Taylor Williams has been on fire all year long,” Cherry said. “We didn’t know how good she was going to be and so we batted her down the lineup where there’s less pressure, but before long we noticed she didn’t have any pressure, didn’t feel it. So we’ve batted her No. 1 … and she’s a big part of our success.”
The next batter, sophomore Ellie Bailey, roped a double that one-hopped the wall in the left-center gap, tying the game; and Annie Bailey followed with a similar shot to right center that ended up as a long single, bringing home her sister for the lead.
That was all the senior Bailey needed as she posted zeroes the rest of the way, but had to deal with base runners in every inning, including the tying run at third in the fourth and the go-ahead runs aboard in the seventh.
The Lady Eagles threatened late as Sydney Reynolds singled with one out and Carrie Buckley walked with two out, but then a screaming liner to third off the bat of Avery Huff was speared by Jewel Mason, ending the game.
Williams finished 2-for-3 with the triple and two runs scored, reaching base all three times up; and Ellie Bailey also batted 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI.
“It’s really hard to go through those first four,” Cherry said. “At some point you’re not going to get them all out. Our big hitters, they do their jobs. They put balls in play and put pressure on defenses to make plays.”
Valley View jumped on top 1-0 in the top of the first after Hannah Jacoby led off with a walk and scored on Sydney Reynolds’ single, but Annie Bailey got out of a bases-loaded jam to limit the damage.
In the home half of the first, the Lady Cats answered as Williams singled and advanced to second on a throwing error, followed by Ellie Bailey’s RBI single to right to knot it at 1-1.
Another leadoff walk was costly in the third as Kelci Nanney reached, stole second, advanced on a Payton Reynolds bloop hit and scored on a passed ball, giving the Lady Eagles a brief 2-1 edge.
Games 2 and 3 will be noon Saturday at Prosper. The winner of the series will play either Bells or Moody next week for the right to play in the Class 2A state tournament in Austin.
“It’s not a pretty win, but it’s a grind-out win against a team that is extremely athletic,” Cherry said. “They can beat you a couple of different ways. We’ve got our work cut out for us on Saturday. If anybody can come back and win two out of three, it’s them. But for us, I can promise you we’re not overlooking that. We’re going to come ready to play.”