MELISSA – With stellar pitching, solid defense and timely hits, Anna’s Lady Coyotes pulled out a gutsy 2-0 win over No. 2 state-ranked Melissa on March 19 at the Melissa Sports Facility. Anna pitcher Hannah Howell had a mammoth night, striking out seven and scattering five hits in a complete-game shutout while going 4-for-4 at the plate with a triple, two doubles and a single. Backing up Howell was consistently-clutch play from Madison Gaston at third, Madi McPherson at second and Qua Fisher at first.

Lady Cards pitcher Alexis Pevehouse was strong as well, striking out nine with three walks while spreading seven hits in her complete-game outing – and she slugged a double at the plate.

The teams entered the contest with 2-0 district records and the Lady Cards perched at second in Texas Girls Coaches Association Class 4A polling. Anna’s last win in the series had been in 2014 when the Lady Coyotes swept two from Melissa.

“It’s huge,” fourth-year Anna head coach Lindsey Gage said of the victory. “They have worked so hard this past week and last week. I am so incredibly proud of them. Melissa has been tough for us the last three years. They’re a really, really good team. I made sure to tell [my girls], ‘Hey, we’ve got to play them again. Enjoy the win tonight then we’ve got to come back to work tomorrow.’”

As for Howell’s big night, Gage said, “She’s definitely showing that she’s a senior and she’s taking charge. The girls are falling in behind her. Whenever Hannah can do that and the girls feel more comfortable on the field, a lot of good things happen.

“And I thought we played fantastic defense tonight. Everybody did their part. That’s what we’ve been preaching to them for the last couple of years. They’re finally realizing what it takes to win. … I think they wanted it really bad. I hope this shows them that they’re one of the best teams in the district and we can play with anybody. That being said, our district is really tough. We’ve got to play like that every single night.”

“I’m not trying to strike everybody out,” Howell said. “This year, it’s just my defense. I trusted them. … Everybody was coming in clutch and it was nice to feel like we were up. It was nice to feel that confident.” Regarding her swings with the bat, Howell said, “I was just trying to get out of my head. Sometimes I try to do too much. This time, I knew my team would back me up so I was just thinking, ‘Base hit,’ and ‘Let my team help me out and score.’ That’s what we did and it felt so good.”

Said Gaston, “I was just thinking, ‘Fundamentals, fundamentals. We can beat them. We can do this.’ … My adrenaline was out of the roof. It’s the best feeling in the world. We went into this week knowing this was important. We practiced hard and we played hard.”

“It means so much,” McPherson said. “We’ve been trying to beat them for so long.” Added Fisher, “It basically showed how good we really are and how good we could be – like Melissa. They’re a really good team. … Everyone ran toward the ball, we were always on our toes. And Hannah did great at pitching. It was perfect.”

Asked about factors that helped craft this result, Melissa head coach Eric Rodgers started with two words: “Hannah Howell. She pitched a great game. She was great in the circle, she was great at playing defense, she was great in the box. But not just Hannah – that whole team played well. My hat’s off to Anna. They came to play. They’ve got some confidence about them, and they should. Three-and-0 now in district. And they’ve got a great coach. She’s been doing great things over there the last few years and now they’re starting to reap some of those rewards.”

As for his Lady Cards, Rodgers said, “I told them I was proud of them. Obviously, we’re not going to win many games if we don’t score any runs. And they know that. The thing I really liked was when we were in the huddle, they did a lot of talking. They understand, ‘Hey, we didn’t play our best.’ We’re going to go back to work. Tomorrow we’re going to go back to grinding the ax. … We look to be 3-1 going into the weekend.”

“I feel like we went in with a different mindset than we normally do,” Melissa shortstop Trinity Needham said of the contest. “We were swinging at balls that we probably shouldn’t have been swinging at. So we’re just going to practice and calm down a little bit and work on our mechanics.”

Said Lady Card’s second baseman Maggie Rodgers, “What I think we can take from this one is, since we have been on a winning streak, it kind of showed us that, hey, we’re not always going to win. So we do need to play our hardest each time. … They were coming for us, and then we didn’t play our hardest and they got us.”

In the first inning, Howell’s 2-out shot down the left field line went for a double and courtesy runner Adrienne “Koolaid” Newman got to third on a passed ball. But when Newman tried to steal home on another passed ball, she was thrown out - catcher Kylee Brakebill to Pevehouse – to end the half-inning.

The Lady Cards got two aboard in their half of the first when Pevehouse walked and Audrey Solomon singled to right, but a Howell strikeout closed out the frame.

In the second, Anna’s Shelby Dombrowski beat out a single to the shortstop and Hannah Price walked but Pevehouse shut it down with a “K” for Out 3. In the Lady Cards’ second, Gaston recorded all three outs in order – on a foul ball near Melissa’s dugout and two bang-bang throws to first.

The Lady Coyotes’ first run came in the third after McPherson singled to short, Amber Thille sacrifice-bunted her to second and Howell’s triple to the right-field wall brought her home. The Lady Cards looked to answer in the bottom of the third when Needham reached base on a two-out single to the right side. But McPherson nabbed next-batter Pevehouse’s hard line drive for the third out.

Anna’s second run came in the fifth. After Kallie Harris reached on an error, Howell followed with a single and Gaston walked. Dombrowski’s ground out to Rodgers then scored Harris but Pevehouse would fan the next batter to get out of the inning.

Down, 2-0, Melissa looked to be in business in the sixth when Pevehouse led off with a double to the wall in left. She moved to third on Solomon’s ground-out to McPherson but Howell got Wright to pop-up to a charging Fisher for Out 2. Gaston then fielded Anna Fortenberry’s foul ball to the left side, ending the threat.

In the top of the seventh, Howell pegged her second two-bagger of the game - a one-out line drive to center - but Pevehouse retired the next two Lady Coyotes.

Three outs away from victory in the seventh, Howell sat the first batter with a strikeout. Next up, Savannah Rodriguez sent a hard shot to McPherson at second - a ball McPherson stabbed falling to her right but slightly misfired to first - and she advanced to second on the throw.

Now facing the tying run at the plate, Howell struck out the next two Melissa batters to end the game.

The two teams meet again April 9 at Anna. Make your plans now. It should be a good one.


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