For the better part of six innings Saturday, the Hays Rebels seemed to have the state-ranked New Braunfels Canyon Cougarettes on the ropes.
But a few costly mistakes, which led to a four-run Cougarette sixth inning, brought Hays’ 2018 campaign to a close in a heartbreaking 5-2 area round playoff loss.
“I’m very proud of them,” said Hays head coach Lisa Cone. “Proud of their effort. You know we asked them to come out here and put up a fight and they absolutely did that. We had a few miscues in one inning and that was it.”
The Lady Rebels jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning after a clutch hit to center field by senior third baseman Illyanna Cisneros.
Senior outfielder Kaylin Davis started the rally by drawing a walk, which was followed by an infield single from junior pitcher Maxine Valdez. Then a wild pitch from Canyon’s starting pitcher Brooke Vestal moved both runners into scoring position. Cisneros saw her opportunity a few pitches later and capitalized with a scorching 2-RBI single up the middle.
“That’s senior leadership right there,” Cone said. “They have been waiting for that opportunity all week, and they wanted to come out there and show that we were going to play with them and she was prepared for that moment.”
After the big first inning, Rebel bats struggled to get anything going as they only had two hits for the rest of the game against Canyon’s stout pitching.
The Cougarettes deployed both of their aces in the game with Vestal getting the starting nod and Aliyah Pritchett finishing off the final three innings. Vestal and Pritchett combined for 11 strikeouts, while giving up four hits and two earned runs.
For Hays, Valdez kept the Canyon batters guessing for the first five innings of play as she displayed her arsenal of pitches while striking out seven and only allowing one run on four hits.
“She had a great night,” Cone said. “We were doing a great job of keeping them off balance. The first few innings we were jamming them inside and they adjusted off the plate, and then we went outside. That’s all we were doing was keeping them off balance and it was working.”
But things started to unravel for Valdez and the Rebel defense in the bottom of the sixth frame. At the time, Hays clung to a slim 2-1 lead.
Valdez walked three batters and gave up a double and infield single that plated four runs for Canyon. Hays also made some mental mistakes in the infield that contributed to a couple of the runs. The Cougarettes captured the momentum heading into the seventh inning with a 5-2 advantage.
“Just a couple of things that didn’t go our way that inning and it changed the ball game,” said Cone. “But you know I thought Max threw a great game. Great game.”
Cone said the thing that she will miss the most about this years team are the smiles from her senior class everyday.
“They are always so happy,” Cone said. “They love the game of softball, they absolutely love the sport. We can hit them a thousand balls and they will say come on coach hit us another one. Couldn’t ask for a better group of kids.”
Despite the loss, the future looks bright for next season as Hays will bring back a plethora of experience with a large junior class transitioning into a veteran led squad.
“I think that they are going to come out next season and start off right,” said Cone. “I think that we are going to shock some people, I mean we are going to have a ton of seniors and its going to be a tremendous lineup. I expect great things from them.”