PARIS — The Howe Lady Bulldogs began the season with a slogan and three letters on their practice gear.
WIT — “whatever it takes.”
The six seniors had reached the playoffs every year, advancing to the regional quarterfinals in 2015, and they wanted more.
After a 7-1 win over Hooks at Paris Chisum High School in Game 3 of a Class 3A Region II semifinals series on Friday, Howe advances to round five of the postseason, its deepest run in program history.
Howe (23-8) will play Hughes Springs, which beat 10-3A champ Lone Oak in Game 3 of their series, in the region final for a trip to the state tournament.
Second-inning singles by junior Payton Griffin and senior Kamryn Fulenchek got Howe off to a one-run lead.
After junior Peyton Streetman reached on the first of three Hooks errors to open the second, Madisyn Hargrove was hit by a pitch.
Junior Torrey Stubblefield blasted a one-hop shot to the wall in left center to drive in Streetman and Hargrove.
Stubblefield finished the series with seven hits in 12 trips to the plate and she drove in eight runs.
Griffin tripled and Howe was on top, 4-0.
That would be all the run support Hargrove needed, as she was giving a solid performance in the circle.
She gave up just three hits, one run, and struck out six to notch her 10th win of the season.
“I just mixed up my pitches better in the second game. I knew they liked to swing early so it didn’t bother me to get down in the count,” Hargrove said.
Howe scored a pair of runs in the fifth, taking advantage of Hooks miscues to bump its lead to 6-1.
A leadoff walk to Streetman, an error and a passed ball started the inning.
Hargrove was hit by a pitch, resulting in a warning to the Hooks coach, and she advanced to second on defensive indifference. Defensive miscues allowed her to score as a wild pitch and passed ball followed.
Howe added an insurance run in the top of the seventh as senior catcher Dani Ross tripled with two outs, then scored on another Hooks error.
“Whatever it takes means we are going to battle you to the end, then see where that takes us.” Hargrove said.
After winning the opener of the best-of-three series on Thursday, and jumping out to a 6-0 lead in Game 2, the Lady Bulldogs were in great position for another sweep.
Hooks, the District 14-3A runner up, had postseason ambitions as well and a seven-run outburst in the third inning delayed the Howe celebration.
“Errors played a big part in this series and we took advantage of theirs Thursday, we made some in the third and it gave them new life,” Howe head coach Jeff Martin said.
Hargrove had cruised through the first two innings of Game 2 on Friday, giving up just one hit.
With one out in the Hooks half of the third, a Lady Bulldog error started a 12-batter run, highlighted by a two-run home run by Hooks pitcher Marena Estell.
When the smoke had cleared Hooks was on top, 7-6, and momentum had swung to the Lady Hornets side.
After each team had scored a run in the fourth, Hooks scored four runs in the fifth to take a 12-7 lead.
Freshman catcher Abby Ross keyed the rally with her second double of the contest, driving in a pair of runs.
Trailing by five, the Lady Bulldogs got back-to-back singles by Griffin and Ross to open the top of the seventh.
With one out, junior Erin Blackburn sent a three-run shot over the wall in right center, her fourth home run of the season, and Howe trailed, 12-10.
Estell got the final two outs to lock up the Hooks’ win and tie the series.
“There weren’t any big speeches between games. The playoffs are a grind and the team that can focus and play with intensity will usually win,” Martin said.