WIMBERLEY – When the Hays Rebel softball team needed to exact a counter-punch Saturday, New Braunfels Canyon Cougarette pitcher Aliyah Pritchett prevented it from doing so.
The inability to generate offense at critical junctures ultimately ended Hays’ 2019 campaign in a 7-2 Game 3 loss to Canyon, closing a grueling best-of-3 series between two programs ranked in the top 10 of the 6A state poll.
Despite the finish, Hays head coach Lisa Cone extolled her team and her senior class in finishing as regional semifinalists for the first time since 2016.
“We are always trying to stay a step ahead of our opponents and they did that. They pushed and they were great leaders,” Cone said. “Thirty wins, that’s something to be proud of. I told them to remember the 30 wins.”
Part of the struggle was deciphering Pritchett who limited Hays to a combined four runs on eight hits in Games 1 and 3 of the series. Rebel senior Brianna Rodriguez said their approach was to attack the first pitch as often as possible, as it usually was the best pitch they were going to see.
Trying to adjust to Pritchett, whose pitches were high in velocity, was easier said than done. Senior Kaylin Davis said seeing Pritchett in the first game of the series provided some insight when they squared off against her in the final game.
Hays also fought to fix fielding woes experienced in the opening game of the series. Multiple Rebel throwing errors allowed Canyon to have a four-run third frame en route to a 7-1 Game 1 victory.
However, Cone said the Rebel defense coalesced and played well “despite the conditions they were in.” Both Hays and Canyon had to deal with an artificial turf surface that was wet for most of the series. Stressing the fundamentals and “keeping the ball in front” were ways Hays played solid defense for most of the series, Cone said.
“We just fought. We did everything we could. We had to be behind Max (Valdez) and Katie (Noble). It was just a fight and we knew what we had to do,” Rodriguez said.
With their backs against the wall, Hays flipped the script in Game 2 Friday when the Rebels succeeded in tallying seven runs on nine hits off of Canyon backup pitcher Hunter Vestal.
That included a three-run outburst in the seventh frame that gave Hays the separation needed in a 7-2 victory. Cone said use of speed on the base paths, as well as turning to small ball, played a role. Playing loose and “having fun the whole game” was a key difference, Cone said.
Coming together and “believing in ourselves” were essential components in scoring the win, Davis said.
In the circle, Hays senior Max Valdez, who pitched in 19 of the 21 total innings in the series, limited the Cougarettes to two runs on five hits while striking out nine total batters in Game 2. Valdez also forced Canyon to leave eight total runners on the base paths.
“We fought as a team and cheered on each other,” Davis said. “We all fought together and it really helped us.”
However, Hays couldn’t hold back Canyon’s opportunistic offense in Game 3. Canyon led 2-1 after two innings and added two more runs in the fourth frame to take a 4-1 advantage.
The Cougarettes added three more runs off of Noble, who relieved Valdez in the fifth and sixth frames of the third contest.
Cone said she couldn’t have asked “for a better performance” from her two pitchers.
“They pitched against a great hitting team. They knew they had to hit their spots and they did that,” Cone said.
Despite seeing their high school softball careers end, Rodriguez said she and other seniors hope to show the next generation the purpose necessary to reach their goals.
“We hope to achieve the purpose. You can’t go down without a fight. We hope they believe in themselves and that they can do it,” Rodriguez said.