PARIS – Audrey Solomon’s towering 2-run homer in the top of the eighth inning seemed to have done the trick for Melissa Friday evening at North Lamar – as they, clinched the best-of-3 Class 4A Region 2 semifinal series for the Lady Cards. Solomon’s impressive blast to left-center — into the wind, no less — had come just after back-to-back doubles by Alexis Pevehouse and Savannah Rodriguez had given Melissa a 2-1 edge. Now the Pantherettes, who’d already been by shocked by the Lady Cards’ 4-3 walk-off win at Melissa the day before, trailed 4-1 in extra innings at home.
Nice run, North Lamar. Just not your year, right? Wrong.
The Pantherettes quickly ignited their overflow crowd of blue-clad fans with a three-run outburst in their half of the eighth, as Melissa faltered a bit in the field. North Lamar then plated the winning run on a passed ball in the ninth, ably returning the gut-punch they’d endured at Melissa.
The Pantherettes (27-8) went on to claim a 7-1 win in the ensuing Game 3 and advance to the regional finals.
Melissa head coach Eric Rodgers, commenting later by phone, said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“It took everything North Lamar had, the No. 2 team in the state, to take us down,” he said. “I can’t be more proud of the way we fought and the way we played, and just the determination of those girls.”
An error and a missed chance at second put the Pantherettes in business in Game 2’s fateful bottom of the eighth. Then, with two on and nobody out, Karsyn Iltis slashed a triple into right field - scoring both runners and Melissa’s lead was whittled to 4-3. Another error followed and McKayla Figueroa’s double to center plated the equalizer.
Tied, 4-4, the Lady Cards were retired in order in the ninth. Things turned more ominous for Melissa in the bottom of the frame as Pantherette Keegan Fendley led off with a double to left. A sacrifice-bunt moved her to third and two walks followed. Two pitches later, Fendley dashed home from third on a passed ball and the unlikely comeback was complete.
The Lady Cards had grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Solomon’s sacrifice fly that scored Pevehouse from third. Pevehouse had reached base on an error and Rodriguez moved her along with the first of her two doubles. That advantage held until the sixth when Ashlyn Reavis led off with a triple and Iltis singled her home.
Pevehouse went the whole way in the pitcher’s circle, striking out six and walking three while allowing nine hits and just two earned runs. She also went 3-for-4 at the plate, including two doubles, while Solomon and Macy Stewart each logged 2-for-4 outings.
In decisive Game 3, Melissa’s Maggie Rodgers tied the score at 1-1 in the third with a solo homer to left, but North Lamar’s 6-run fifth inning would tell the tale. Kylee Brakebill led Lady Card hitters, posting 2 hits in 4 at-bats. Bryton Wright started in the circle and worked 4.1 innings before Pevehouse came on to close it out.
Rodgers noted there was indeed “a moment” when the Lady Cards appeared to have this series wrapped up.
“But hats-off to them too,” he said. “At first I thought, ‘How did this happen?’ But it’s the same thing [for them]. They were probably thinking how did they give up three runs [in Game 2’s eighth inning]? It’s just a game and things happen. They were fighting just as hard as we were fighting. You can’t dwell on it.”
It was a season to remember for Melissa (26-8-2). After a 5-5 run in district play, the fourth-seeded Lady Cards took it all the way to the fourth round of the playoffs for the first time in program history and knocked off No. 1-ranked Aubrey along the way.
“We were all down about not being able to keep going,” Rodgers said. “I told them, once it was all over, ‘You can focus on what didn’t go right but I’m going to choose to remember the Aubrey series, I’m going to remember the first North Lamar game, because those are some of the most memorable games I’ve ever been a part of.’ We still did more than what we’ve ever done before. We still had some great games.”
In Thursday’s Game 1 at Melissa, it was Pevehouse’s walk-off single to right field that boosted the Lady Cards to their dramatic 4-3 win. The game-ending swing came with two outs after the Pantherettes had gone up, 3-2, in the top of the seventh - their first lead of the game.
Stewart led off Melissa’s seventh with a crucial walk and Wright’s bouncing infield single followed. Next up, a sacrifice bunt by Rodgers moved both Lady Cards into scoring position at second and third. After a line-drive shot to the pitcher for Out 2, Brianna McGee came in as a courtesy-runner for Wright at second base. Then, with a 3-1 count to Pevehouse, a ball got past North Lamar’s catcher and Stewart raced home with the tying run. Pevehouse stroked the next pitch to the wall in right, sending McGee home with game-winning run.
“I didn’t know how we could top what we’d done the week before, [beating Aubrey], and the girls showed me real quick that we could top it,” Rodgers said. “Being at home was probably the best part because we had so many people there and it was so loud. It was amazing.”
Melissa took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on Solomon’s 2-RBI shot to center field after Brakebill and Rodriguez had each singled. The Pantherettes bounced back to tie it, 2-2, in the fifth.