MELISSA – In a game that supposedly meant nothing, Melissa and Princeton tangled and clawed like a state title was on the line on Wednesday, April 19, before someone finally supplied the knock-out blow. That someone was Lady Cardinal third baseman Macy Stewart, whose sharp double up the middle lifted Melissa to a 4-3 extra-inning win over the Lady Panthers.

The Lady Cards were already in the playoffs — and Princeton was out — before this game started. So what was all the fuss? Plenty: Before 2017, Melissa had never beaten Princeton at all — and now they’d done it twice in one season. The victory ended the Lady Cards’ improbable three-game losing streak; and it came in the final game at venerable Skyler Field, as the team moves into new digs next year. Need more?

“It’s Senior Night,” Melissa senior Becca Pittman said, clutching a bouquet of flowers. “It’s my last time here and I love it. It was a great game, the whole nine innings. Both pitchers pitched great. Both teams did great, defensively. It was a tough game, but we pulled through.”

“It’s past my bedtime,” joked Melissa head coach Eric Rodgers when it was over. “I guess it shouldn’t be any other way when you’re on a little bit of a losing streak. That was awesome. Princeton, my hat’s off to them. They fought, they fought, they fought — never once gave up. But our girls kept fighting too. … We needed a confidence boost. We needed to get back in the win column. … We didn’t need to go into the playoffs on an 0-4 streak. We lost one game all year on this field. So it was big. You can say it didn’t mean anything in the standings, but it did. We needed it for ourselves.”

The Lady Cards (6-4) end the regular season as the fourth playoff seed from District 11-4A and, after a warmup game with Carrollton Ranchview, will face Crandall in the bi-district round on either Thursday or Friday, April 27-28, likely at Royse City.

As for her game-winning swing, Stewart said, “Before I went out there, Coach Rodgers had come up to me and he’s like, ‘Just be you, be confident. All we need is a base hit up the middle.’ My nerves were definitely through the roof but I was able to overcome that.”

Melissa out-hit the Lady Panthers this night, 13-7. Princeton pitcher Katy Wilson worked a complete game, striking out seven and walking one, as Lady Card Alexis Pevehouse went the whole way as well, striking out nine with no walks. Anna Fortenberry and Savannah Rodriguez collected three hits each for Melissa, while Pevehouse and Solomon connected for two each. Princeton’s Destiny Estrada proved to be the toughest out for the Lady Cards, going three-for-four at the plate.

Pevehouse opened the bottom of the first inning by jacking an 0-2 pitch over the fence in left field. Teammate Audrey Solomon added a two-run dinger over the same fence in the third that put the Lady Cards back in the lead, 3-2. It was Solomon’s team-leading 11th home run of the season. Pevehouse ends the district slate with a team-high .512 batting average.

A heads-up double-play by Melissa in the fifth inning proved critical. Trailing 3-2, the Lady Panthers had runners at second and third with no one out before Pevehouse fanned Cameron Wilson. Princeton’s Hailee Thompson then sent a grounder to second baseman Rodriguez who fired to Pittman at first for one out. Pittman then threw home to keep Princeton’s Sara Jo Strawn at third but the ball got away from catcher Kylee Brakebill. With Strawn bearing down on home plate, Brakebill scrambled for the ball, turned and tossed it to Pevehouse who tagged-out the sliding runner.

“I saw stars after I came out of the dugout screaming,” Rodgers said of the play. “You can’t say it was the game-winner but it was probably what saved the game for us. If they score there, who knows what happens after that. Us getting out of that was huge.”

There were three questionable umpire calls in the late going — and all went against Melissa. First, in the sixth inning — when the Lady Cards had two runners on and looked ready to break a 3-3 tie — Princeton apparently got away with an illegal substitution. And as has been customary this season, umpires simply aren’t sure how to rule in these cases. A lengthy discussion ensued and Rodgers’s claim was eventually negated. The second call came in the seventh, when Princeton’s second baseman dropped the ball on a force play. The umpire ruled the drop came during ball “transfer” after the catch. Then, in that same inning, as Rodriguez crossed home plate with what appeared to be the winning run, Maggie Rodgers was called out on a close play at first base to end the frame. All three calls were made by the same umpire, who perhaps was sporting Princeton-maroon underwear.

“We fought through everything that came our way,” Stewart said. “We didn’t give up and we tried to keep our bats alive as much as we could. … Our motivation is pretty much: Every game counts, no matter the situation.”