PRINCETON — Melissa's Lady Cardinals wrapped up the regular season on Tuesday, April 17, with a 12-4 victory over Princeton, a win that secured their best-ever finish in district play. Their 7-3 record and tie for second place in district are Melissa softball highpoints. The win also ended a painful two-game losing streak just in time for post-season play.
For the Lady Panthers, the result marked the end of a winless district campaign.
Lady Cards pitcher Alexis Pevehouse struck out nine and walked two while scattering seven hits in a complete-game outing as Melissa batters launched a 16-hit attack, including five doubles, a triple and a home run.
Princeton starter Haven Welborn worked six innings, striking out five and walking four before giving way to Crystal Tice for the final three outs.
Lady Cards head coach Eric Rodgers called this a “typical trap game.” “We knew we were in the playoffs,” he said, “but we also needed this win to be where we wanted to be, whether it was tied for first or maybe in second. It's always tough coming in playing an opponent that's had a rough year. And after a couple of tough losses — they hurt — it's good to get back rolling again.”
Leading Melissa's charge at the plate were Anna Fortenberry, who went 3-for-4 with a double and a triple for 3 RBIs, and Audrey Solomon, who logged a double and a homer and also went 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs. Savannah Rodriguez posted three hits as well with a double while Kylee Brakebill and Pevehouse went 2-for-4 and swatted a double each. Sally Clemmons tallied two singles in four at-bats.
“I'm proud of the way we hit the ball tonight,” Rodgers said. “We got the runs when we needed them. And I thought Alexis got better as the game went on. She really started to come into her own in the late innings. … But I thought all the girls did well tonight. Everybody got to play. I love that.
“I'm going to say it again: This is one of the best districts in the state — facing Celina twice, Aubrey twice, Bonham twice. There's a reason we're all splitting. On any given night, it's just one or two plays that are determining everything. So my hat's off to my girls. We've never finished 7-3. We've never finished in second place. There are still titles to be won — bi-district, area — and we've already started talking about those.”
Bonham's win over Anna on the same night assured the second-place logjam, one game back of Celina. Said Rodgers, “I asked the girls, 'Do you want to flip a coin with Bonham or do you want to play them?' Of course, they said, 'Let's go play.'” (Tiebreaker-game details were not yet available.)
Princeton's Senior Night observance was held after the contest and, in a classy move, Rodgers had the Lady Cards remain on the field, lined up near their dugout, to observe the presentations.
Tied, 1-1, after two frames, Melissa took some separation with three runs in the third. Pevehouse started the push with a lead-off first-pitch double to left. Fortenberry then delivered her double to left that rolled under the fielder's glove to the fence allowing her to follow Pevehouse home for a 3-1 Lady Cards lead. That's when Solomon socked her dinger to center field for another run.
The Lady Panthers scratched a run across in the bottom of the third to cut the deficit to 4-2, but Melissa quickly answered. Brakebill and Pevehouse opened the fourth with back-to-back singles and, after Brakebill was picked off at second, Fortenberry slapped her triple to right, scoring Pevehouse. Up next, Solomon popped-up to the left side but Fortenberry made it home after tagging up for a 6-2 Lady Cards edge. Rodriguez' double was next, but a strikeout soon ended the half-inning.
In the fifth, Brakebill's two-out double to right scored Clemmons who'd led off with a single. After Pevehouse reached on an error, Brakebill came home on a passed ball. Solomon's double to left then plated Pevehouse for a 9-2 advantage. The Lady Panthers shrunk it to 9-4 in the bottom of the fifth but with two outs in the sixth, Pevehouse's bases-loaded fly ball was mishandled, scoring three runs for the game's final margin.
Clemmons said the team's stout hitting was the result of tweaking their swings. “We definitely had a problem with pulling our heads. We'd pull up and not watch the ball. We were looking at the ball today and we were actually hitting it pretty well.”
“It will definitely be a battle again,” Clemmons said of the Lady Cards' coming rubber-match with Bonham. “We have to play like a team and I think we'll be good. … I think we're going to go pretty far if we continue [playing like this].” Rodriguez added, “Like Coach Rodgers says, we come in with confidence.”