PARIS — The Howe Lady Bulldogs began the 2017 season with a slogan, and three letters on their practice gear.
WIT — “Whatever It Takes.”
The six seniors on the Howe team had reached the playoffs every year, advancing to the regional quarterfinals in 2015, and they wanted more.
After a 7-1 win over Hooks Friday night at Chisum High School in Game 3 of the Class 3-A, region II quarterfinals series, Howe advances to round five of the postseason, its deepest run in program history.
After winning the opener of the best-of-three series on Thursday, and jumping out to a 6-0 lead in Game 2, the Lady Bulldogs were in great position for another sweep.
Hooks, the District 14-3A runner up, and a 30-game winner coming into the series, had postseason ambitions as well and a seven-run outburst in the third inning delayed the Howe celebration.
“Errors played a big part in this series and we took advantage of theirs Thursday,” Howe head coach Jeff Martin said. “We made some in the third and it gave them new life.”
Senior Madisyn Hargrove had cruised through the first two innings of Game 2 on Friday, giving up just one hit.
With one out in the Hooks half of the third, a Lady Bulldog error started a 12-batter run, highlighted by a two-run home run by Hooks pitcher Marena Estell.
When the smoke had cleared Hooks was on top, 7-6 and momentum had swung to the Lady Hornets side.
After each team had scored a run in the fourth, Hooks scored four runs in the fifth to take a 12-7 lead.
Freshman catcher Abby Ross keyed the rally with her second double of the contest,driving in a pair of runs.
Trailing by five, the Lady Bulldogs got back-to-back singles by junior Payton Griffin and senior Dani Ross to open the top of the seventh.
With one out, junior Erin Blackburn sent a three-run shot over the wall in right center, her fourth home run of the season, and Howe trailed by just two, 12-10.
Estell got the final two outs to lock up the Hooks win and tie the series at a game each.
“There weren’t any big speeches between games, the playoff’s are a grind and the team that can focus and play with intensity will usually win,” Martin said.
One of Martin’s go-to reminders is, “Let’s jump on them early.” The Lady Bulldogs did just that in the rubber game of the series.
Second inning singles by junior Payton Griffin and senior Kamryn Fulenchek got Howe off to a one-run lead.
After junior Peyton Streetman reached on the first of three Hooks errors to open the second, Hargrove was hit by a pitch.
Junior Torrey Stubblefield, who had gone 3-for-4 with a home run and triple in game one, blasted a one-hop shot to the wall in left center to drive in Streetman and Hargrove.
Stubblefield finished the series with seven hits in 12 trips to the plate, and she drove in eight runs.
A Griffin triple plated Stubblefield and Howe was on top, 4-0.
That would be all the run support Hargrove needed, as she was giving a solid performance in the circle.
She gave up just three hits, one run, and struck out six to notch her 10th win of the season.
“I just mixed up my pitches better in the second game — I knew they liked to swing early so it didn’t bother me to get down in the count,” Hargrove said.
Howe scored a pair of runs in the fifth, taking advantage of Hooks miscues to bump its lead to 6-1.
A leadoff walk to Streetman, a Lady Hornet error, and a passed ball started the inning.
Hargrove was hit by a pitch, resulting in a warning to the Hooks coach, and she advanced to second on defensive indifference.
Defensive miscues allowed her to score as a wild pitch and passed ball followed.
Howe added an insurance run in the top of the seventh as senior catcher Dani Ross tripled with two outs, then scored on another Hooks error.
Hargrove got a pair of strikeouts in the bottom of the seventh to wrap up the win, and the series.
“Whatever it takes means we are going to battle you to the end, then see where that takes us,” Hargrove said.
So far it’s taken Lady Bulldog softball to a 20-5 record, and to its longest postseason run in school history.
They will play the winner of the Lone Oak-Hughes Springs series in the Region II finals.