Van Alstyne can't hold off Bullard to force Game 3
ANNA — When the Van Alstyne Lady Panthers opened the season, a young roster moving up in classification could have been intimidated and overwhelmed.
They could have struggled to find their footing and been relegated to the bottom of the standings in a loaded district.
When the Lady Panthers opened their Class 4A Region II semifinal series with a blowout loss to Bullard, that young roster could have accepted the inevitable.
But instead they found themselves holding the lead with three outs to go and on the verge of forcing a winner-take-all contest to continue their best season in more than two decades.
It was not the ending they wanted, however, as Bullard took advantage of some mistakes in the top of the seventh and rallied for a 5-2 victory to sweep Van Alstyne in their fourth-round match-up.
“We just didn’t finish it. Get three outs and we’re done,” VA head coach Jason Brogdon said. “I couldn’t have asked them to fight any harder. I’m super proud of them.”
Bullard (30-4), which will face either Aubrey or Pleasant Grove in the region final, had never been past the region quarterfinals.
Van Alstyne (22-8) hadn’t been to this point of the playoffs since 1998 and was trying to make the fifth round for first time since 1994.
“They haven’t been talked about like this for some time,” Brogdon said. “The goal was to set new boundaries and have that swag and attitude for people playing Van Alstyne. That was the mission for the girls. Four rounds is a treat.”
Bullard rallied with four runs in its last at-bat to keep VA from getting to Game 3.
It started with a walk to pinch-hitter Rylie Jo Garner and Berlyn Grossman had an infield single to short. Kaylee Paul hit a grounder to second and Kylie Allen had the force at third but Madi Thomas dropped the throw. Garner got caught in a rundown after the ball got away but a throw to the plate went to the backstop and the game was tied.
“If you give them the momentum, they do a good job with it,” Brogdon said. “They executed and we didn’t.”
Gabby Nichols pulled off a squeeze that plated Grossman to put Bullard in front. Addison Hooker was safe on a fielder’s choice and Matti Nix walked to load the bases. Claire Cannon then grounded to Paige Scarbro, who had just taken over at second when Allen was moved to third, and her throw home for the force was high and pulled Tinsley Love off the plate as Bullard took a 4-2 advantage. Teagan Graul followed with an RBI single.
Van Alstyne went in order in the seventh, the last a sinking liner by Jenna Pharr that was caught in right field.
It looked like Bullard tied the game in the sixth. Hadi Fults was hit by a pitch with one out and Cannon doubled to left-center to put the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Graul hit a grounder up the middle that Allen grabbed and threw home, leading not only to the second out on a tag but also a collision between Fults and Love.
Love stayed down and Cannon continued on to the plate and was able to get in under the tag after Love gathered herself and dove across the plate.
After the umpires convened, Fults was ejected for malicious intent on the collision, Cannon was put back at third and the tying run was taken off the board. Kenzie King flew out to foul territory in left to end the inning.
Just by playing a scoreless contest through three innings was a major improvement for VA, which was down 10-0 after the first inning in the series opening 15-0 loss.
“They saw a different team (in Game 1) that we have been,” Brogdon said. “You could tell the team was ready to go.”
Allen had a two-out single in the first and Tess Cutler had a leadoff hit in the third, moving to second on a one-out grounder to third.
After Van Alstyne fell behind in the top of the fourth, it responded immediately to take the lead.
Allen and Kelsie Adams walked to start the inning and a wild pitch got far enough away for Allen to take off for third and make it. The throw to the bag allowed courtesy runner Avery Jennings to go to second.
Love hit a deep fly ball to center that tied the game and Jennings avoided a tag as she went to third. Danielle Anderson was hit by a pitch with two outs to keep the inning moving and then Jennings scored on a passed ball for the 2-1 lead.
A two-out rally nearly gave Bullard the lead in the top of the fifth. Grossman and Paul singled through the left side and Nichols sent a looping ball to right which Allen reached up and grabbed for the final out instead of a single that would have given Bullard a 3-2 advantage.
Bullard didn’t get a hit until Hooker led off the fourth with a single up the middle and Sydney Sullivan misplayed it, allowing Hooker to go all the way to third.
Fults followed with a slow groundout to first to give Bullard the 1-0 advantage.
Through three innings, Adams worked around a pair of walks in the first thanks to a fielder’s choice for the second out and a one-out walk and a stolen base in the third.
Class 4A Region II
Van Alstyne 2
Note: Bullard wins series 2-0