COMMERCE – Great teams possess mental toughness.
Mark it down. Anna’s Lady Coyotes are a great softball team.
They proved it Thursday on a big stage - the Class 4A Region 2 finals at John Cain Family Field on the campus of Texas A&M-Commerce. There, battling North Lamar before a standing-room-only crowd, the Lady Coyotes bounced back from a 3-0 fourth-inning hole with one swing of the bat by Qua Fisher then recovered from a numbing late error to win, 5-4, on Madison Gaston’s walk-off double to right field. The 2-out shot scored speedy courtesy-runner Adrienne “Koolaid” Newman from first base.
Such a roller coaster of emotions could easily derail some teams’ post-season runs – but for Anna, it didn’t. The Lady Coyotes simply cinched their harnesses tighter and appeared to enjoy the ride.
“I don’t even know what to say right now,” Anna head coach Lindsey Gage said minutes into her team’s wild celebration. “They played hard, they never gave up. We’ve been talking about timing all year, getting the timely hit, and we did that with Qua tonight. Then Hannah [Howell] got on base there in the bottom of the seventh and [courtesy-runner] Adrienne can fly. So I knew when Gaston hit that ball we were going to score.”
Anna athletic director Jason Heath delivered the Region 2 trophy to the Lady Coyotes. “We’re so proud of them, as a district, as a community,” he said moments later, “just watching them grow each game, play with confidence and keep fighting. … And it’s somebody different each and every week, each and every game, that comes up big. That’s what it takes this time of the year. They’re fun to watch.”
Anna’s Hannah Howell worked all seven innings in the circle, spreading six hits with two walks while striking out three. “I was just telling myself, ‘Do it for your team. Do it for your team.’ [The Pantherettes] have so much speed. They have a bunch of slappers and then they have power hitters. It’s a great lineup to face, just like Farmersville.”
North Lamar pitcher Karsyn Iltis went the distance as well, permitting 11 hits with six strikeouts and no walks.
Big hitters for Anna included Fisher and Hannah Morland, who each finished 2-for-3 at the plate, and Gaston, who went 2-for-4.
The Lady Coyotes’ now head to the state tournament for the first time in school history. They’ll face Decatur in the semifinals at 9 a.m. Thursday at UT-Austin’s McCombs Field. The 4A state title game slated for Saturday.
North Lamar logged two runs in the third inning then one in the fourth and seemed to be settling in for a decisive win. Howell, though, said the Lady Coyotes never panicked. “We were kind of like, ‘Just have fun. We made it this far.’ Then Qua comes in clutch with that big home run. It flipped another level. We were like, ‘We’re going to win this,’ and we just started getting up.”
Fisher’s stunning 3-run blast over the left field fence ended any North Lamar thoughts of simply waltzing on to the state tournament. Instead of a coronation, a party, for the next three innings, this was on - and the Pantherettes knew it.
Amber Thille had reached base on a fielder’s choice and Hannah Morland followed with a single to left, setting the table for Fisher’s game-tying dinger.
“I had to do it for my team,” Fisher said. “I’ve been struggling for a while during the season. I was just trying to get something in. I wasn’t even trying to hit it to the fence. … It was all good when it went over because it made everyone relax a little bit.”
“Qua, defensively, is one of our best players,” Gage said. “I knew she was going to come through. She was due. She hit the ball hard in her first at-bat. She works, works, works at practice. I’m super-proud of her.”
The Lady Coyotes added a crucial run in the sixth on three-straight singles. Shelby Dombrowski dropped the first one into shallow right and Thille followed with a line drive down the left-field line. Then, with runners at second and third, Morland’s infield chopper plated Dombrowski for Anna’s first lead of the game.
Down, 4-3, North Lamar was suddenly down to its final three outs. Howell quickly retired the first two batters herself - one on a grounder, the other a stabbed line drive - and the Lady Coyotes could taste Austin.
That’s when Iltis lofted a high fly ball toward Morland in left, who’d already made a pair of stellar plays. Put plainly, this thing looked over. “When it was hit in the air,” Gage said, “I was like, ‘That’s exactly who I want it to be hit to.’”
Morland drifted under the ball and prepared to squeeze the final out as fans on both sides held their breath. Then - in an instant - the ball passed just over the top of Morland’s glove and rolled to the fence. Iltis rounded the bases, all the way home, as the Pantherettes went bonkers - now tied 4-4.
It seemed to be a crushing moment for Anna, but something else was happening as the North Lamar’s fans went nuts: None of the Lady Coyotes pointed fingers after the play – or hung their heads in the dugout after getting Out 3 on a grounder to Madi McPherson at second.
Said Morland, “My teammates said, ‘We’re a team. This isn’t anybody’s fault. We’re going to get it back.’ I just had faith the whole time that we were going to score in the seventh inning.”
Howell did as well. “I was saying, ‘It’s alright, we still have to hit again. We got this right here.’”
“The best part about it,” Gage said, “is we sprinted after the ball and we got the next out. We came in and scored the run and that’s all that matters. That error is erased.”
Indeed it was.
Howell kicked off the big finish with a 2-out single, deep in the hole at short. Then, with Newman perched at first, Gaston stepped into the batter’s box. “I told myself, ‘This is what we’ve been working for, this is your time to do it,’” Gaston said. “As soon as I made contact, I thought, ‘This is it. We’re going to state.’ I knew.”
“She came through,” Gage said of Gaston, adding, there was no thought of holding Newman at third on the play. “There were two outs so she was moving, she didn’t hesitate. She is fast. I knew if Gaston could get the ball in the gap, we were going to score.”
Gage summed up her charges’ gutsy regional-final performance thus: “They did everything that I could ever imagine, as far as a coach.”
The Lady Coyotes will look to stretch that imagination a bit further on Thursday.