15 hits don’t help error-prone Decatur in state semis
AUSTIN – Had softball been around in 450 B.C. China, perhaps Confucius would have said, “One does not win such endeavors when getting out-hit, 15-4.”
But then, what did that guy know?
On Thursday, in yet another free-wheeling chapter to Anna’s storybook 2019 playoff run, the Lady Coyotes rallied past Decatur, 6-4, in the Class 4A state semifinals at UT-Austin’s McCombs Field. And it happened after the Lady Eagles had pounded out 15 hits to Anna’s 4.
While six Decatur errors helped boost the Lady Coyotes’ run total a bit, they didn’t have a thing to do with 12 Lady Eagles being left on base. That happened courtesy of an Anna defense that wouldn’t break and another gutsy complete-game pitching performance by senior Hannah Howell.
In fact, Howell ended the contest with a bases-loaded strikeout of Decatur slugger Jordyn Smith, who’d entered the game batting .562 and was 2-for-4 this day with a triple. Howell got Smith looking on two strikes then fanned her with a wicked screw ball to close it out. Howell chucked her glove to the ground and Anna’s celebration began.
“We didn’t play our best,” Lady Coyotes head coach Lindsey Gage said. “I don’t think Decatur played their best, but at the end of the day it was a battle. We scored on errors, we put the ball in play, we made them work and I think that was to our advantage.
“Decatur is a heck of a team and their pitcher is really good. We had the timely hitting again. We put the ball in play when it mattered and we took advantage of the little stuff. Anytime we can take that extra base we’re going to take that extra base. I think we just put pressure on them defensively.”
Coming up big offensively for Anna were Hannah Morland, whose two-RBI triple in the second inning led to a 3-0 Lady Coyotes lead, and Hannah Price and Madison Gaston, who sparked Anna’s push to 6-4 with fifth-inning singles.
The Lady Coyotes (25-8-1) will face Huffman Hargrave (37-7-1) at noon Saturday for the state championship.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gage said. “It’s been an adventure. We have an awesome fan base that’s coming. I’m speechless.”
As for that final-out showdown, Gage said, “That’s not who we wanted to face, by any means. Hannah’s a great pitcher. They hit the ball hard a couple of times. Other ones were just squeaking through the infield. That was a big moment right there - and it was nerve-wracking. … That’s state-championship softball, in my opinion.”
“You work on that,” Howell said, “at pitching lessons, at practice - you work on those intense moments. … [Smith] was a stud. It was tough.
“You try not to let nerves get the best of you. My defense always backs me up, so I had a lot of confidence.’”
Howell (23-8), a Northwestern Oklahoma State-commit, struck out five, walked one and allowed four earned runs while weathering Decatur’s eventually hapless hit parade.
Decatur pitcher Reagan Chism (25-3), who’s signed with Stephen F. Austin, worked all seven innings as well, permitting three earned runs with eight strikeouts and two walks.
Calm under pressure
Although this game marked Anna softball’s first-ever appearance in the state semifinals, these Lady Coyotes appeared anything but uptight during warm-ups. There were plenty of smiles and a few dance moves to boot – and just before team introductions, catcher Kallie Harris was sporting her giant “Alamo hat” from Buc-ee’s, a good luck accessory she’d kept close all week.
An impressive throng of Anna fans were on-hand as well, including a school bus-full of AISD students who’d been piloted southward by Coyotes head basketball coach Kyle Phifer.
After a 2-8 finish in district play a year ago, the 2019 Lady Coyotes continue to demonstrate a knack for not getting rattled, no matter the circumstance.
“I think a lot of that is character,” Gage said. “A lot of the stuff they do is stuff when I’m not there. They have a good team chemistry and they want it. I think that’s what it all comes down to – they want it.”
Decatur (29-6) had one previous state-tournament appearance, in 2002.
“We gave it our all,” Anna centerfielder Amber Thille said. “They were a tough team and they made some good plays. In the end, we just outplayed the other team.”
Regarding Chism, Thille said, “She had movement on her ball. We kind of struggled in the beginning. We had a hard time hitting off her rise balls.”
Said Dombrowski, “We were struggling batting, but as soon as we got baserunners on … someone came up with a big hit and brought them in. We just had to keep pushing.”
Said Harris, “They had some great hitters, especially their top of the line-up. I had some passed balls but I had my team to back me up. … I feel like we were pretty clean on defense and we fought the whole game and we didn’t give up.”
“It was very tense because they can put the ball in play,” Anna first baseman Qua Fisher said. “We just had to play defense. … I feel like we were prepared for it because we’d done it in multiple games.”
Lady Coyotes strike first
Anna broke on top, 3-0, in the second inning, taking sure advantage of a chance not often seen. Leading off the frame, Gaston appeared to be out when a 3-2 pitch was called Strike 3. But Chism’s offering was ruled illegal due to her foot losing contact with the rubber and Gaston took first base on the “ball.” Dombrowski moved Gaston to second on a fielder’s choice to short and Thille followed with a walk.
That’s when Morland slapped her 2-RBI three-bagger to the wall in right field – then came home herself on a throwing error to third.
“I was just telling myself ‘Stay off her rise ball, and slow down and let her throw to you,’” Morland said. “I got the one I liked and I was ready for it.”
“She’s been clutch for us this whole playoff run,” Gage said. “We needed that.”
The Lady Eagles opened the bottom of the second with an infield single, but that momentum wilted when Anna turned a sweet double play. Gaston’s stab of a line drive to third started it and her dart to Qua Fisher at first – catching the runner off base – finished it. Howell fanned the next batter to close out the inning.
Cheap shot gets a pass
Decatur tied it, 3-3, in the third after leading off with a single to right and a double to center. The Lady Eagles’ first run came on a passed ball, then a single to left cut the deficit to 3-2.
Next up, a pop fly to the left side got away from Dombrowski but she alertly snatched up the ball and moved to tag-out Brison Hesteande who was charging toward second base.
Hesteande raised both forearms and plowed into Dombrowski’s upper chest/neck area, dropping her like a sack of lead.
The play caused no evident concern from the three umpires though it was the sort of vicious cheap-shot that can maim.
Fortunately, Dombrowski - who didn’t drop the ball, by the way - was OK and after a few minutes resumed her position.
Hesteande went on to post a team-best 3-for-4 day at the plate with 2 RBI.
After a double to right knotted things at 3-3, the frame ended on a Gaston-to-Fisher put-out at first.
Decatur edged ahead, 4-3, in the bottom of the fourth after leading off with a walk and a bunt chipped just over Howell’s head for a single. Howell got the lead runner at third on the next bunt and a fly-out to Madi McPherson at second followed. Hesteande then singled to center for Decatur’s first lead of the game. Howell ended the threat with another fly ball to McPherson.
Anna rallies again
Just as the black-clad Lady Eagles looked ready to take charge, Anna punched back - as they’d done versus No. 1 North Lamar a week prior. With one out in the fifth, Price singled up the middle into center field and Harris followed with a high popper to the pitcher – who dropped it. Retrieving the ball, Chism’s throw to first just missed the head-first-diving Harris and the Lady Coyotes had two on.
Next up, Howell gave one a ride to left field for Out 2, bringing Gaston to the plate. Gaston promptly sent an 0-1 pitch into left, scoring Price from second - and then came the dagger-error Decatur could not afford: With the throw coming too late to get Price at home, the catcher launched an off-target pick-off throw to second, a ball that rolled deep into a now-vacant center field. Before it was flagged down, both Harris and Gaston raced home and Anna led, 6-4.
The Lady Eagles would leave the bases loaded in their half of the fifth then two more in the sixth, as Anna’s defense answered the call again and again.
In the top of the seventh, McPherson kept the pressure on with a lead-off single to centerfield but Decatur recovered with a fly-ball out and a double play.
From there, the Lady Coyotes took the field for the bottom of the seventh and made more Anna history.
Howell said it hadn’t quite sunk in yet that the Lady Coyotes are playing for a state title Saturday. “All these people are here, all my family, all my friends,” she said. “It doesn’t seem real.”
Stay tuned, Anna fans – the best may be yet to come.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Anna 0 3 0 0 3 0 0 6 4 2
Decatur 0 0 3 1 0 0 0 4 15 6
Anna’s 2019 run to the state finals
def. North Dallas, 24-0
def., Carrollton Ranchview 15-0
def. Celina, 8-4
def. Farmersville, 11-6, 11-2
def. North Lamar, 5-4
def. Decatur, 6-4