In the span of the final inning-and-a-half, Ashlinn Hamilton faced a pair of bases-loaded situations.
The Denison freshman saw it from opposite perspectives — first as a pitcher and then as a hitter. The outcome in each circumstance was a turning point with both going in the Lady Yellow Jackets’ favor.
After a strikeout with the sacks packed sent the game into extra innings, Hamilton’s inside-the-park grand slam provided just enough cushion as Denison defeated Sherman, 6-2, in eight innings in District 10-5A action at Old Settlers Park on Friday night.
“I think it’s awesome to come in as a freshman and have such an impact,” Hamilton said. “First of all, I was very nervous. Both times were nerve-wracking.”
The victory clinched a playoff spot for third-place Denison (17-9, 5-3), which returns after a one-year absence. It matched the highest win total since 2013 and another victory would be the most for the program since it won 19 games during a region quarterfinal appearance in 2006.
Denison will look to tie Lovejoy for second place with a victory at Lovejoy on Tuesday before finishing district play at Wylie East on Thursday.
Sherman (7-19, 2-6) now faces a must-win game on Tuesday when it travels to Wylie East. The Lady Bearcats are right behind the Lady Raiders, who own the tie-breaker with a 6-3 win in the first meeting, and then would need to at least match Wylie East’s finish to ensure at least a play-in game. Sherman hosts first-place McKinney North to end its season on Thursday.
“We’re still in this. We have to beat Wylie East and they know that,” Sherman head coach Reeca Huntsman said. “We did a lot of good things again but it just hasn’t fallen into place. We had opportunities. It’s been the story of our season.”
Four of Sherman’s district losses have come in the seventh inning or later. Jessica Bridges match Hamilton through seven innings, scattering nine hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks before the Lady Jackets finally broke through.
It wasn’t quite as dramatic as Elizabeth Linwood’s two-run walkoff homer in the first meeting but Denison found a way to come out with its sixth win in the last seven match-ups.
Madison Carter started the winning rally with a single to center and after a forceout, Shayla Love worked a one-out walk on a full count. Jaci Garvin put the Lady Jackets in front with a hit through the right side. But Denison wasn’t done. Haley Earnhart earned a two-out walk on a full count to load the bases for Hamilton.
After quickly falling behind 0-2, she sent the ball towards the left-field line and it sliced into the corner, clearing the bases. Hamilton never stopped running and arrived at home plate the same time as the relay throw, which bounced away and Denison had a 6-1 advantage.
“She’s just an amazing young lady,” Denison head coach Jeremy Green said. “They all are. Our motto is ‘Hard Work Pays Off’ and it has. This is an exciting time.”
The Lady Bearcats were able to put the tying run on deck in the bottom of the eighth. Kenna Ferguson walked with one out, Kaitlyn Bang singled and Ashley Boatright doubled at the right field wall for a 6-2 margin. A flyout and then a strikeout kept the comeback from inching any closer.
“This was a total team win. Everyone who played contributed,” Green said. “Even at 1-1 going into the eighth, nobody showed any kind of worry.”
Sherman came 60 feet away from its own walk-off win. Bailey Kuhn pinch-hit with two outs in the seventh and was hit by a pitch. Jessica Shrum re-entered and raced to third when Garvin tried to pick her off at first. Bridges and Jillian Whitmire were intentionally walked to load the bases before Mackenzie Clark grounded out to second.
After Denison tied the game, the Lady Jackets’ best opportunity until extras was in the fifth, when Hamilton singled and then Jewel Hiberd had a one-out hit that snuck up the middle. Bridges kept the stalemate going with a strikeout and flyout.
A diving catch by Bang behind second base kept Denison from having first and second with one out in the sixth.
Denison pulled even with a run in the top of the fourth inning. Hannah Grinspan tripled to right center with one away and Love followed with a single to right center to tie the game. Garvin then singled but the Lady Jackets couldn’t push across the go-ahead run.
Whitmire gave Sherman a 1-0 lead in the third with a one-out home run deep over the center field fence. The Lady Bearcats got a runner to third before an inning-ending groundout.
Sherman loaded the bases in the second when Ferguson was hit by a pitch with one out and Boatright and Kaitlin Caver walked with two outs. Hamilton escaped any damage with a strikeout.
Both teams wasted scoring chances in the first inning. Hamilton opened the game with an infield single and Linwood followed with a single to right and took second on the throw to third. Bridges got a lineout to center that was too shallow for a sacrifice fly and then a pair of strikeouts.
Caver opened the bottom of the frame with a walk but a Hiberd turned a double play on a bunt attempt. Bridges singled and Whitmire reached on an error before Clark’s smash to first was deflected off Love to Grinspan at second, who then threw back to the bag to end the inning.