After a nail-biting 1-0 win over the San Antonio East Central Hornets April 25, the Hays Rebels softball team sped away to a 7-1 win Friday to claim a bi-district playoff round sweep.
Propelling the Rebels were a pair of strong performances by senior pitcher Max Valdez, along with clutch hits up and down the lineup.
“I think we came out stronger than we were yesterday (Thursday), because we didn’t play so timid today,” Valdez said. “I think it was because we were home and there were our fans.”
While game one was too close for comfort for Hays head coach Lisa Cone and the Rebels, adjustments at the plate, in addition to playing in front of a home crowd, made the difference in their game two performance.
“I mean our stands were so loud, it really did just help us relax,” Cone said. “Our crowd, I think, played a huge part today as well. Then once we got our hits, it was a little bit contagious.”
Valdez, who pitched in both contests, surrendered three total hits and only one run in 12 innings. She also tallied nine strikeouts over five innings in Game 2 of the series.
“Honestly, I felt pretty good, I thought I was going to be more sore than I actually was.” Valdez said. “But I felt good.”
A wild pitch by Valdez in the top of the first inning of Game 2 allowed the Hornets to score their only run of the series. Valdez made up for it with a two-run home run to deep left field with her first at bat in the bottom of the first frame in Game 2 to give the Rebels a 2-1 lead.
“We got to get it back, that was on my mind.” Valdez said.
Hays batters’ patience at the plate paid dividends as they scored seven runs on eight hits. Freshman Megan Kelnar was a key player for the Rebels as she went 2-for-3 with four RBIs in Game 2, with both of her hits putting runs on the scoreboard.
“She (Kelnar) has actually had moments like that earlier in the season when she has had some really big hits,” Cone said. “So we knew she could do it and she did a great job.”
Kelner’s first hit was a single to right field in the bottom of second inning that scored Amaya Guerrero from second base. Her next hit was a bases-clearing triple over East Central’s right fielder, scoring three runs and putting the Rebels up 6-1 in the bottom of the fourth.
“I was kind of nervous but then I remembered that our senior Bri (Rodriguez), she told me before. I just need you to relax. I know you have jitters, just go up there and hit the ball, that’s all you need to do and all you need to think about. So, I went up there and just took a breath, thought two strikes this is going to be it, and I just threw my hands and I hit it,” Kelnar said.
Hays, currently ranked 9th in the Class 6A state softball poll, advances to play San Antonio Holmes in a best-of-3 area round series. Game 1 of the series will be played May 1 at Smithson Valley High. Game 2 is scheduled for May 2 at Marion High at 6 p.m., with an if-necessary Game 3 set for May 3 at Smithson Valley High at 5 p.m.
Cone credited the tough district schedule for preparing her squad for the high intensity of the playoffs.
“We are very confident that our district prepared us very well for the playoffs,” Cone said. “I think what we are seeing right now is absolutely comparable to everything we saw in district. That was one great thing about our district play this year, there was not a single game where we could relax.”