Even when adversity stared her in the face Friday, Dripping Springs Tiger starting pitcher Kiele Miller never blinked.
Despite a possible game tying run in scoring position in the seventh inning, Miller closed down the Austin Maroons to claim a thrilling 6-5 win in the second game of the three-game set.
The Tigers carried momentum into a decisive 5-1 Game 3 win, which advanced the Tigers to the regional semifinals.
For Miller, the knowledge that her high school career potentially ending was ample motivation.
“This was either going to be my last inning as a high school pitcher, or it was going to be the inning that advanced me and my team to the next game in the playoffs,” Miller said. “I really thought, ‘this is your entire high school career in this one inning. You go for it and get it.”
Dripping Springs’ path to the regional semifinals was forged on the arm of Miller, who pitched in 16 of the 21 innings in the series. Backing Miller up was a Tiger defense that made stellar plays in critical moments.
Tiger head coach Wade Womack said the Dripping Springs defense has steadily been progressing all season long.
“That’s one thing we’ve improved upon over the last year,” Womack said. “We still have a ways to go. They’ll be the first ones to tell you we haven’t played our best game yet.”
Miller found success early in Game 1 when she shut Austin’s offense down in the first five innings. But the Maroons fought back by taking advantage of Miller, who had begun to fatigue in the sixth inning.
The result was a five-run Maroon inning that was aided by two Tiger errors. Dripping Springs, which led 2-0 after five innings in Game 1, fell behind 5-3 after the sixth frame and never recovered.
But for Miller, focusing on recovering was priority. Primarily to rectify a “weird cramp” that happened in her hand midway through the first contest.
“I had to focus on drinking lots of water and Gatorade. My athletic trainer helped out a lot,” Miller said. “The team moms also got us bananas and crackers and all sorts of stuff to help keep up our electrolytes.”
Miller retuned in Game 2 and stymied Austin’s offense. On the opposite end, Dripping Springs’ offense scattered seven hits off of Maroon pitcher Danielle Serna.
Dripping Springs powered for four runs in the third inning of Game 2, highlighted by a three-run home run off the bat of Ryann Campbell. The Tigers led 5-1 after four innings.
However, for every Dripping Springs response, Austin had an answer. The Maroons, led by Jo Fuentes and Celia Bigger, outscored Dripping Springs 4-1 in the fourth and fifth innings. The Tigers held a precarious 6-5 lead after five innings.
But even as Womack had a relief pitcher warming up in the bullpen, he worked to motivate his starting pitcher.
“You’re a senior. Finish it,” Womack said to Miller as he had pitchers warming up. “You’ve been waiting for this for four years, go finish it.”
Miller’s final stand to close Game 2 allowed the Tigers to force a third game of the series on Saturday.
Dripping Springs rolled out to an early 3-0 lead before Austin responded with a run in the fourth inning.
The Tigers scored a pair of insurance runs in the fifth inning en route to clinching the series.
With the win, Dripping Springs advances to play Corpus Christi Carroll in a best-of-3 game series that began Thursday. Game 2 is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m.