Lehman Lobo pitcher Lexi Bechtel understands how easy it can be to succumb to the pressure of protecting a narrow lead when stuck in a bases-loaded jam.
Bechtel encountered the nightmarish scenario Tuesday when the Vandegrift Vipers loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh frame.
Even as the Vipers seemed prime to cut into a slim Lobo lead, Bechtel stayed as cool as a cucumber to record the final three outs and give Lehman a much-needed 2-0 district victory. For Bechtel, the mentality of having fun and staying away from the stress of the moment was critical.
“I was focused on each batter and took it pitch by pitch,” Bechtel said. “It was tough, but I was trying not to worry about it. Whatever happened, happened.”
Bechtel was thrust into the role of heroine by virtue of a pair of timely Lobo runs that broke a scoreless stalemate in the fifth frame.
An RBI single from freshman Alyiah Tanguma with the bases loaded gave the Lobos a 1-0 lead. Two batters later, Lehman pinch hitter Alyssa Ysla belted an RBI single with the bases loaded for a 2-0 Lobo advantage.
Jesse Bustamante, Lehman head softball coach, said Lehman’s success was predicated on adjustments to Viper pitcher Bri Hale, whose slower velocity threw off the Lobos’ timing at the plate.
“We scored two runs. We could have scored more, but we got the win. At the end of the day, we got the win,” Bustamante said.
Tanguma said she had never personally experienced notching a game-changing hit prior to Tuesday. Tanguma, a left-handed batter, said she normally slaps the ball, and felt going for a hit “was kind of scary.”
“It was the bases loaded and I had to get a run in,” Tanguma said. “My mind was blank when I was up there, but I hit it. I scored a run and got on base.”
The Lobos then turned the ball to Bechtel, whose focus on throwing first-pitch strikes kept Vandegrift’s offense limited. Bechtel and the Lobo defense forced Vandegrift to strand seven total base-runners in the game.
Vandegrift, however, didn’t go down without one last concerted rally. The Vipers quickly loaded the bases as a result of a leadoff triple, followed by a batter hit by a pitch, and a single.
Bustamante had faith in Bechtel, while also maintaining confidence in the team’s defense to back her up.
“We’ve relied on our defense all year. We played good defense today,” Bustamante said. “A few games before, we didn’t play as good defense as we’re used to. We woke up a little bit and played like we’re supposed to.”
Lehman’s win keeps the program in the thick of the postseason hunt. The Lobos currently hold fifth place in the 25-6A standings with four games left to play.
Friday’s home contest against the rival Hays Rebels will be the first of several playoff caliber tests Bustamante hopes his team can pass.
“It’s survival mode right now. Every game is a playoff game for us,” Bustamante said. “You win, you have a chance to make the playoffs. You don’t win, you go home.”
First pitch in Friday’s Hays and Lehman softball game is at 7 p.m. at Lehman High.