By Moses Leos III
SAN ANTONIO – A late inning surge Thursday places the Hays Lady Rebel softball team on the brink of second-straight state tournament berth.
Three runs in the fifth inning launched Hays to a dramatic 7-5 win over the Medina Valley Lady Panthers at St. Mary's Unviersity. Hays holds a 1-0 lead in the best of three series. Game two will be played Friday at 7:00 p.m. at St. Mary's University.
"The resiliency of our girls is incredible," Hays head coach Aaron Fuller said. "That's what I expect out of them. That's what they expect out of themselves."
Defensive miscues hindered the Lady Rebels, starting in the first inning. A passed ball with the bases loaded scored Lady Panther junior Tina Lopez, giving Medina Valley a 1-0 lead.
On the offensive end, Hays worked to decipher sophomore pitcher Kylee Decock, who breezed through the first two innings. Hays got the jump in the third.
With a runner on second and one out, junior Angelica Arroyo delivered an RBI triple to tie the game. Two batters later, senior Addie Vayas reached on an error, scoring sophomore courtesy runner Lulu Arroyo. After Vayas stole second, senior Sarah Leal ripped an RBI single to give Hays a 3-1 lead.
Fuller said last week's struggles on offense against Mercedes helped Hays prepare for the series.
"We got back to work this week in the cages," Fuller said. "The hitters came in more focused. We tried to hit the ball hard on the ground and put pressure on their defense."
Medina Valley resurged in the fourth inning, scoring four runs, two of them unearned, all with no outs.
Three Lady Rebel errors extended the inning, allowing Medina Valley to send ten batters to the plate. Senior Brooke Mangold highlighted the inning with a two RBI single. An RBI single from junior Lauren Sotelo scored Mangold to put the Lady Panthers ahead 5-3.
Hays defense settled in and but the brakes on the Lady Panthers. They were aided by Leal, who gave up only one more hit the rest of the way. Leal went seven innings, strking out four in the game.
The Lady Rebels rallied right back in the fifth inning, aided by a bizzare play.
With one out, Arroyo and senior Maddy Shannon hit back-to-back singles, bringing up Vayas to the plate. Vayas grounded to the Lady Panther shortstop Abigail Mangold, who then collided with Arroyo in between second and third. Arroyo came around to score, while Shannon advanced to third in the ensuing chaos.
Umpires orignally ruled Arroyo out via runner interference. However, they overturned it, allowing Hays to score the run. The move set off a wave of emotion. It also put momentum squarely in Hays' possession.
That was bolstered by a RBI squeeze bunt from Leal on the ensuing at bat. Her bunt in front of the plate allowed Shannon to score, as she slid beyond the reach of two Lady Panthers. Vayas would later score, giving Hays a 6-5 advantage.
Taking advantage of the situation was critical, according to Fuller. Helping was the senior leadership, along with the adversity faced in their previous two series.
The tenacity of the offense was a big factor. None more than Arroyo, who went 3 for 3 at the plate.
"We were just trying to relax and not let anything bother us, and just play our game," Arroyo said.
Hays added a run in the sixth via an RBI single from Shannon to take a 7-5 lead.
However, Medina Valley wouldn't go away, as they loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh. But Leal's prowess, and the play of the defense staved off the Lady Panthers.
The focus for Hays will lie on Friday's game; a win would place them back in the state tournament.
For Fulller, the knowledge of his team's resiliency to over come miscues was crucial.
"It's nice to know that if [errors]happen, we can over come it, and we can pull out a win," Fuller said.