In most cases, the first out Haley Earnhart made in the top of the seventh would have been enough for a gold star and top billing for an inning.
The second out she handled in right field was much more routine. But the final one the Denison senior produced was the most impressive, not only because it gave the Lady Yellow Jackets a victory.
“She made some great plays out there,” Denison head coach Jeremy Green said. “She did what she had to do.”
Earnhart’s one-hopped throw to third base from mid-deep right field on a sacrifice fly nabbed Emily Zhao for the final out to preserve the Lady Jackets’ 8-7 win over Frisco Centennial in Game 1 of a Class 5A Region II bi-district series at Denison on Thursday night after the opener was postponed a day due to bad weather.
Denison (18-11), which has won more games than any season since 2006, will look to sweep Frisco Centennial (16-7) and advance to the area round with a victory in Game 2 at 7 p.m. on Friday at Centennial. A third game, if necessary, would be at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Anna.
Centennial nearly came all the way back from a five-run deficit in the top of the seventh. Emilee Mayer walked on four pitches to open the inning before Earnhart saved an extra-base hit ticketed for the right-field corner by running down Katie Walsh’s drive near the line.
Lexi Pope ripped an RBI single to right and the Lady Titans then loaded the bases on singles from Tatum Wright and Alex Byrd to bring the tying run to the plate.
Sierra Corbin singled to right to drive in another and an error on the throw towards third allowed Centennial to make it an 8-6 deficit and the tying run was at second.
Guiliette Arellanes hit a fly ball in Earnhart’s direction for the second out and a sac fly to get the Lady Titans within a run. But Zhao, a courtesy runner, tried to tag up and go to third but the throw beat her to the bag for Jewel Hiberd tag’s on the game-sealing out.
“They’re a great hitting team. We knew they were going to hit,” Green said. “You’re not going to completely shut them down. We did what we had to do.”
Denison had an opportunity to extend its lead in the fifth but left the bases loaded. Hannah Grinspan singled with one out and Earnhart and Ashlinn Hamilton had two-out infield singles before Elizabeth Linwood grounded out to second to end the frame.
Centennial looked to respond immediately after Denison’s outburst and had the early makings of some offense when Byrd and Corbin singled to lead off the fourth. Hiberd started a double play by stepping on third and throwing across the diamond.
The Lady Titans were able to push across a run in the fifth. Daniela Arellanes was hit by a pitch and with one out Walsh reached on an error. Pope had an RBI double to the wall in right center and Centennial had a pair in scoring position with just one out and a chance to trim the margin even more. A pop-out to second and a one hopper to first kept it an 8-3 lead for the Lady Jackets.
After putting a runner on base in each of the first two innings, including one in scoring position in the second, Denison got on the board in the bottom of the third when Keanu Hall hit leadoff home run to left field to cut the Lady Yellow Jackets’ deficit in half.
Earnhart nearly joined Hall but came up a foot short, clanging a double off the top of the left-center field fence. It was the start of a very big inning.
Centennial decided to make a pitching change at that point, replacing Guiliette Arellanes with Byrd as the lineup turned over for the first time. Byrd promptly walked the bases loaded with free passes to Hamilton and Linwood.
Shayla Love tied the game with a squeeze on the first pitch she saw as Earnhart beat the throw to the plate. One batter later the Lady Jackets took the lead when Madison Carter walked to force in a run.
Hiberd extended the advantage to 4-2 when she was hit by a pitch on the left thigh.
A force at home was the first out of the inning before Grinspan reached on an error. A throwing miscue on the play also allowed Hiberd to score and Denison had built a 6-2 lead as it batted around with Hall walking to reload the bases.
Garvin scored on a wild pitch and then Grinspan did the same with two outs, a daring dash since the ball barely went more than a few feet from the right-handed batter’s box. Corbin, the catcher, scrambled to get to the plate in time but was a hair late as Grinspan slid in feet first ahead of the tag.
Centennial used a two-out rally in the top of the first to take a 2-0 lead. Mayer reached on an infield single with two outs and moved to third on a pair of two-out wild pitches. Pope worked a full count walk to keep the inning alive and Wright had an RBI single to left.
Byrd followed with an RBI single to right and Hamilton avoided further damage with runners at the corners by inducing a comebacker to end the frame.
“We preached to them all week to have 100 percent confidence in everything they do,” Green said.