COMMERCE — Every time Howe made an offensive move, Hughes Springs scored a few more runs to keep things in hand against the Lady Bulldogs Thursday evening in Game 1 of their Class 3A Region II final series.
The good news for the Lady Bulldogs is that they still have a chance to come back Saturday night and punch their ticket to state, but it’ll take two wins in a row.
“That’s what we plan on doing,” Howe head coach Jeff Martin said. “We’re going to come out here and we’re going to compete. We have all year, and we’re not going to stop now.”
Howe took an early 2-0 lead, but Hughes Springs had a four-run answer in the bottom of the first and never trailed again as the Lady Mustangs won, 8-3, at Texas A&M-Commerce’s John Cain Field to take the series lead.
The series concludes Saturday night at the same location, with Game 2 set for 7:30 p.m. and Game 3 to follow if necessary.
Howe starting pitcher Torrey Stubblefield settled down after a rocky first inning, but by that time Hughes Springs had taken a lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.
“I was telling the girls, until that last inning we had more hits than they did,” Martin said. “But we never strung anything together. They’d get a couple of base hits together and score a couple of runs, and that as just the difference.”
Hughes Springs pitcher Zoe Lanier also had a shaky start, but she too settled down, tossing three straight shutout innings. Marisol Kennedy took over in the fifth and finished out the game, earning a save.
Erin Blackburn batted 3-for-4 and Payton Griffin homered for the Lady Bulldogs (23-9), while Madisyn Hargrove added two hits and Stubblefield, Dani Ross and Emily Sanders added one single apiece as Howe matched Hughes Springs with nine hits.
“We had a really good hit game, but I wish we could’ve strung the hits together,” Blackburn said. “If we could have not one hit per inning and (instead) have five hits per inning and put them all together, we’ll be fine.”
The Lady Bulldogs struck first in the top of the first inning, loading the bases with nobody out but only scoring two runs after Blackburn singled, Peyton Streetman drew a walk and Hargrove singled.
Stubblefield, who has verbally committed to Texas A&M, drove in a run on a fielder’s choice and Kayla Anderson followed with a grounder to second.
But the Lady Mustangs (33-3) answered by sending nine batters to the plate and scoring four runs in the home half of the first. A hard two-run single up the middle by Haylee Wilson and a two-run double by Abbye McKinney to right-center did the damage.
Hughes Springs scratched out another run in the second on a walk, a steal, a sacrifice bunt and a groundout for a 5-2 lead.
Another huge juncture in the contest came in the top of the fourth as the Lady Bulldogs loaded the bases on singles by Ross, Sanders and Blackburn with two out, but Lanier induced a pop-up to second to get out of the jam.
“We had the bases juiced twice, and we’ve got to get more out of that,” Martin said.
Griffin led off the top of the sixth with a home run over the fence in dead center to cut Howe’s deficit to 5-3.
“I was hoping it would kick-start us,” Martin said. “She just kept her head down and kept right on the ball. It was a nice, smooth swing and she got all of it.”
But Hughes Springs got the run back on a bang-bang play at first, where Katelyn Roth was called safe on a grounder to short, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive. Peyton Blythe and Shelbie Fickling followed with RBI doubles to round out the scoring.
The Lady Bulldogs attempted a rally in the top of the seventh, putting two on with one out before Hughes Springs’ Kennedy got the final out on a liner to center.
Howe has a mountain to climb, but the Lady Bulldogs remain confident they can come back Saturday night and extend the season.
“We’re not done yet,” Blackburn said. “We’ll get ‘em.”
Class 3A Region II
At Texas A&M-Commerce
Hughes Springs 8, Howe 3
Howe 200 001 0 — 3 9 0
Hughes Spgs. 410 003 x — 8 9 2
WP — Zoe Lanier. LP — Torrey Stubblefield. Sv — Marisol Kennedy. 2B — Hughes Springs: Abbye McKinney, Peyton Blythe, Shelbie Fickling. 3B — None. HR — Howe: Payton Griffin.
Records — Howe 23-9; Hughes Springs 33-3.