Six late runs scored over two innings catapulted the Hays Rebels softball team in a wild come-from-behind 8-7 district win over the rival Lehman Lobos Friday at Hays High.
Rebel head coach Lisa Cone said patience, primarily when facing an early five-run deficit, paid off for the Rebels, who hold sole possession of second place in 25-6A as the midpoint of the district season nears.
“I wasn’t worried. We kept telling them that they’re going to hit the ball and we knew they we’re going to have a big inning, but you have to fight,” Cone said. “The girls never got down and they were always loud and cheering.”
Hays was forced to put its patience to the test as Lehman flexed its muscle on offense in the early going.
Guiding the Lobos were key situational at-bats; all seven of Lehman’s runs were scored with two outs on the board.
Lehman, which led 2-1 after three innings, exploded for a five run fourth frame where 11 Lobos had an at-bat.
Aiding the Lobos was an error in the outfield that scored the first trio of runs. RBI base hits from Emily Barry and Gabby Rodriguez ballooned the Lobo lead to 7-2. Rodriguez went 3-for-3 at the plate with two singles, a double and two RBIs.
Lobo head coach Robert Young said Lehman capitalized on “howling” 15 to 20 mile-per-hour winds that played a role in the error. Staying focused in the batter’s box, especially with two strikes or two outs, was equally important.
“They stayed off the pitches they needed to, and when she (the pitcher) missed, we capitalized on it,” Young said.
But the Lobos struggled to replicate that success over the final three frames. Adept pitching from Rebel senior Max Valdez, who earned the win in five innings of work, limited Lehman to only two hits down the stretch.
Valdez’ ability to escape trouble late in the game kept Hays in contention. Lehman loaded the bases in the fifth frame and had two runners in scoring position in the sixth inning. Valdez kept Lehman scoreless in both situations.
While Valdez struggled to find the strike zone early, she began to find her groove as the game wore on, Cone said. Helping boost her confidence was tossing pitches in the bullpen between innings.
“I told her, ‘we’re going to find it, but it will take some time, just throw your game,’” Cone said. “She stayed focused and worked her way through it.”
While Valdez kept Lehman off the scoreboard, Hays’ offense whittled away at the Lobo lead, anchored by a five-run fifth inning that tied the game at 7-7.
Hays scored its five runs on four hits and was helped by a pair of Lobo errors. Cone said adjusting to Lehman starter Lexi Bechtel’s pitch speed was a challenge in the first few innings, where Hays wasn’t allowing the ball to get deep enough across the plate before they swung.
“We had to get used to the timing and settle down a bit,” Cone said.
Hays tallied the go-ahead run in the sixth frame. With runners on first and second base and two outs, Rebel Emma Morales, who was substituted into the game in the previous inning, ripped an RBI base hit to score Kari Louk.
Keying on inside pitches paid dividends for Morales.
“I see where they (fielders) are not and I see myself hitting there,” Morales said. “I wanted to bring the runners in.”
Despite the loss, Young said the Lobos are “right where we want to be.” Lehman is currently third in the district and is still in the district title chase.
“It’s tough to win all of them, especially in this district,” Young said. “We’ve got to win half the games we’re supposed to and half the games we’re not. If we can do that, we’ll be fine.”
Cone said reliance on each other will be needed as the season rolls on.
“It’s going to take the entire team. They listened to that and they just did a little at a time to take off those runs we needed,” Cone said.
Hays hosts Lake Travis Friday. Lehman hosts Akins Monday, followed by Austin High Tuesday. All games are at 7 p.m.