Joshua — After winning game 1 of the best 2-out of-3 regional quarterfinal-round against Meridian on Thursday 4-1, the Italy Lady Gladiators softball team defeated the Lady ’Jackets 2-0 on Saturday to claim the regional quarterfinal championship.
Italy head coach Jennifer Reeves stuck with her gutsy senior pitcher Courtney Westbrook on Saturday despite Westbrook’s 7 innings of work on Thursday against Meridian. The strategy worked as the Lady Gladiators defense posted a third shutout during their undefeated 6-game winning streak thus far in the playoffs.
When asked was there any carry over from Thursday’s game in which Westbrook went the distance while fighting a headache, Westbrook stated, “I felt good out there, I’m strong.” Westbrook certainly was, recording six more strikeouts against the Lady ’Jackets in game two.
Italy’s defense was aided by a couple of key catches from left fielder Meredith Brummett and a catch by centerfielder Bailey Bumpus. Also Italy caught two foul balls for outs, one by third baseman Megan Richards and another by catcher Alyssa Richards who made the catch against the backstop. Did I mention the backstop was a brick wall?
After combining for five outs in game one on Thursday, second baseman Cori Jeffords and first baseman Drew Windham teamed up for four more outs during Saturday’s game two. The Meridan Lady ’Jackets will be having nightmares about those two for months to come.
Top of 1st inning:
Italy’s Westbrook begins the game with a full count strikeout and then shortstop Anna Viers fields a grounder and scorches a throw to Windham for out number two. Meridian grounds out to Jeffords at second base who throws to Windham for the third out.
Bottom of 1st inning:
Viers grounds out. Megan Richards grounds out as well. Alyssa Richards doubles to left field. Jeffords is called out at the plate after laying off a high outside pitch.
Top of 2nd inning:
The first two Meridian batters hit balls back to the mound where Westbrook fields them cleanly and throws to Windham on first for two outs. A grounder is hit up the first base line to Windham who fields it, turns and flips to Jeffords who covered first from her second base position for the third out.
Bottom of 2nd inning:
Windham hangs one up to second base for the first out. Brummett grounds out to second base and then Bumpus line drives one straight to the Lady ’Jacket shortstop for the third out.
Top of 3rd inning:
With the score still 0-0, Meridian’s first batter grounds out to Jeffords who throws to Windham for out number one. Westbrook gets another strikeout. Meridian’s next batter hits a fast grounder to Jeffords as well but a slight bobble allows the Lady ‘Jacket runner to beat the throw to first. Meridian then slices a shot between short and third where Brummett collects the grounder in left field and throws to Megan Richards on third base to hold Meridian’s runners on first and second base.
Meredian hits a grounder to Megan Richards at 3rd base who fields the ball with ease and casually steps on third base for the force out to get Italy out of the top of the inning.
Bottom of the 3rd:
Alma Suaste hits a line drive to Meridian’s shortstop who makes the catch in the air for out number one. Westbrook grounds out to second base. Viers hits a single to get her first hit in the series. Megan Richards pops-up to Meridian’s shortstop for the third out.
Top of 4th inning:
Italy’s first batter gets out. Jeffords flies out to right field. Windham pounds a double into centerfield. Bumpus flies out to centerfield stranding Windham at second base.
Bottom of the 4th inning:
Westbrook strikes out Meridian’s lead-off batter who watched the third strike all the way in. The next Lady ’Jacket batter hits to the mound where Westbrook makes the play and throws to Windham on first for the second out. Meridian sends a pop-up sailing into left field but Brummett rushes in to make a running grab for the third out.
Top of the 5th inning – Lady Gladiators strike 1st:
Brummett pops-up to Meridian’s second baseman for out number one. Suaste flies out to left field. Westbrook squeezes a single between second base and a diving Lady ‘Jacket to get the Lady Gladiators started. Up next, Viers. That’s with a “V”, as in victory. Viers pops one up beyond third base and into shallow left field. Meridian’s left fielder runs up and dives for the catch a few feet from the foul line.
Unable to make the catch, the ball continues into foul territory and Coach Reeves sends Westbrook home for the first score of the game. As Meridian’s left fielder gets to her feet to track the ball, Viers continues to round second and heads for third base. Coach Reeves gives Viers the green light but Viers puts on the brakes about halfway in before deciding to go for the plate.
The delay setup a collision with Meridian’s catcher but Viers is called safe to give the Lady Gladiators a 2-0 advantage.
Megan Richards keeps the momentum going for Italy by air-mailing a single into centerfield.
Alyssa Richards doubles into left field. With apparently an injury to the throwing hand of Meridian’s left fielder, who dove after the homerun ball hit by Viers two plays earlier, the Lady ’Jackets are unable to make a throw to third or second for a possible third out.
Jeffords gets clipped in the leg by a pitch and gets awarded first base, loading the bases with two outs. Windham comes to the plate for Italy but Meridian’s pitcher comes thru for the Lady ’Jackets and gets the third out as a strikeout.
When asked to give a recount of her ultimate game winning, inside the park homerun, Viers explained, “Coach Reeves gave me the green light to head home but when I got about halfway I hesitated because the catcher was already on her knees blocking the plate with her glove in the dirt. I assumed the ball was on it’s way in so I pulled up.”
Viers went on to say, “I looked over my shoulder and realized the ball was still behind me so I just went for it. The catcher had to adjust to the throw and that was the opening I needed. Once in the dugout my hands were shaking but I tried to take a drink of water anyway. I poured water all over my face and down the front of my shirt!”
Bottom of the 5th:
Meridian’s lead-off batter hits a wicked grounder to Viers at shortstop. Viers knocks the ball down but the throw is behind the runner and the Lady ‘Jackets get a runner on base. Meridian’s next batter grounds out to Windham at first for the 1st out. Meridian hits to Viers at shortstop who guns down the runner to a stretched out Windham on first base for out number two. The next batter hits to Jeffords at second base who throws to Windham for the third out.
Top of 6th inning:
Brummett singles for Italy in the 6th but the Lady Gladiators are unable to extend their lead, still 2-0 Italy.
Top of the 7th inning:
Brummett makes her second catch of the game in left field for the first out. Westbrook strikes out Meridian’s next batter to finish with 6-strikeouts. Then, in fitting fashion, Meridian hits a grounder to Jeffords at second who calmly throws to Windham at first base for the final out. The effort seals the win as the Lady Gladiators claim the regional quarterfinal championship, 2-0 over the Lady ’Jackets.
Newly re-elected Italy ISD School Board Member Larry Eubank eloquently summed up the Lady Gladiators victory by stating, “We got ’er did, now we gotta get ’er done in the next round!” And after a chuckle, a group of Lady Gladiator fans enjoyed their celebratory meals at La Fiesta in Cleburne.
The Lady Gladiators will play Blue Ridge in a 1A regional semi-final matchup, TBA.