The Texas Girls Coaches Association had the Bushland Lady Falcons ranked as the No. 4 team in Class 3A in its latest poll (May 20) ahead of the team’s regional final series versus the Brock Lady Eagles.
A 7-4 game one win over Brock Wednesday even gave some sense of validity to Bushland’s place over the former (No. 6 in the same poll) in the standings.
The Lady Falcon’s momentum did not last long, as the Lady Eagles erased the 1-0 series deficit with a pair of big wins (8-1 and 9-3, respectively) Saturday at Iowa Park High School, clinching the team’s fourth-straight state tournament berth in the process.
Brock Head Softball Coach Ryan Starnes said the grit his players showed in games two and three was remarkable.
“The moxie that they just showed is unbelievable,” Starnes said.
“That’s a really good Bushland team. The one thing we talked about on Wednesday when that game was over was, ‘Do you feel like we’re better?’ And all our kids said yes. So all [Saturday] was about is going out and proving that then. We let things get away from us on Wednesday, let’s go prove that we’re better and we did.
“We made great plays on defense, our pitchers were big-time and our execution at the plate [was strong]. Our kids were huge [Saturday]. It’s incredible.”
Brock plays the Emory Rains Lady Wildcats in the Class 3A state semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday at McCombs Field in Austin.
One constant across both games Saturday was that when Bushland made mistakes, Brock made plays.
Defensively, Lady Eagles’ starting pitcher Kelsi Tonips and company held a Lady Falcons’ team which had averaged 17 runs per game this postseason (ahead of the regional final series) to a single score, coming in the fourth inning.
Tonips struck out four while holding Bushland to three hits.
Brock’s own potent offense was mostly held in check through the first four innings, with the team taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the second on a pair of Lady Falcons’ fielding errors.
That all changed with a two-out, six-run rally in the top of the fifth.
Tonips loaded the bases on a walk after Bushland cleanly fielded a Landry Felts pop fly to give the Lady Falcons their second out.
Brock’s next six batters got on base, with five contributing scores.
Jessica Leek hit an RBI single, Maddie Murley walked (with bases loaded), Lauren Kizer notched an RBI single, Maddie Bramblett walked (with bases loaded) and Hailey Blankenship also walked (with bases loaded), combining for the team’s six runs of the inning.
Tonips and the defense did the rest, retiring Bushland in six at bats in the bottom of the fifth, four at bats in the sixth and three at bats in the seventh.
Brock put up five hits, with Leek leading the way, going 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Despite the lopsided loss it had just been handed 30 minutes before, Bushland came out with plenty of energy at the start of game three, responding to an RBI single (one score) from Tonips in the top of the first with two scores of its own in the bottom of the same frame.
That momentum lasted roughly one additional half-inning for the Lady Falcons, who earned three outs in the Lady Eagles’ first four at bats of the second inning.
Momentum quickly shifted in the bottom of the same frame, as Bushland went three up, three down.
Brock followed up by scoring three runs in the top of the third for a 4-2 lead.
The Lady Falcons’ last gasp came in the bottom of the fifth on a walk with bases loaded (with one out), pulling the team within one run (4-3).
Like game one, Bushland’s fortunes quickly soured as Brock rose to the moment, earning back-to-back outs to return to the plate.
From there, the Lady Eagles scored five runs in the final two innings, each related to a Lady Falcons’ error.
Blankenship stole home on a passed ball in the sixth before Tonips hit a ground ball to second base which drove in teammate Payton Gasca.
Tonips herself got on base after Bushland’s second baseman failed to corral the hit.
In the seventh, Bramblett drove in Kizer on a line drive to center field (and subsequent error by the Lady Falcons’ center fielder) to put Brock up, 7-3.
Gasca notched a line drive herself two at bats later, driving in Bramblett and Blankenship on another Bushland fielding error.
In all, the Lady Falcons were responsible for 10 errors.
Bushland’s once-potent offense finished the series anything but, with Brock earning three outs in the former’s first four at bats in each of the sixth and seventh innings.
Tonips and Kizer split time on the mound in game three.
Each team collected seven hits.
Kizer and Blankenship led the way for the Lady Eagles, each going 2-for-4 at the plate (the former scored one run, while the latter scored three runs).