MIDLOTHIAN — For seven innings Midlothian bats rang early, often and loudest — even before Waxahachie's Jasmine Sanchez hit a leadoff triple in the seventh.
The Lady Panthers won their series opener against Waxahachie High School on Tuesday night at Lady Panther Field at the Midlothian Sports Complex, beating their cross-county rivals 7-2.
It was Midlothian's first district game against Waxahachie since 2010 and their third 5A game since dropping a classification level after April's district realignment.
"We are very young and inexperienced in this district, so I don't think the scores [of our last two games] are any indication of where we stand [among 10-5A teams]," said Alejandro Lozoya, the head softball coach at Midlothian High School. "We saw that against Mansfield Legacy. Coach (Amie) Prater and her kids were stout and Sophie Hannabas, who is going to do wonders when she gets to Southeastern Louisiana, kept us off balance pitch after pitch. They came in angry and motivated from a tough go-round in non-district. There's not a big gap — if any — from the teams we faced in 6A to the ones we're facing now."
The win buoyed the (10-6, 2-1) Lady Panthers into third place behind undefeated Mansfield Legacy and Mansfield Lake Ridge High Schools and ahead of Waxahachie, Mansfield Summit, Red Oak and Lancaster High Schools.
"It felt like a 1-0 game the entire time," Lozoya continued about his team's matchup with the Lady Indians. "This is a tough softball district. When I coached at Kennedale, I used to scrimmage against Coach (Steve) Howell and Waxahachie. He's been in this district for a while now. We knew how good they are every year and what a tough competitor they'd be when we faced them."
A year ago Lozoya and the Lady Panthers were busy torturing the likes of Cedar Hill, DeSoto and South Grand Prarie en route to a 10-2 district 8-6A finish and the area round of the UIL 6A playoffs.
They brought the full weight of their bats to bear on Tuesday, logging 10 hits via five different batters — including a sixth-inning triple by freshman Kaylee Hlavaty and a fifth-inning double by sophomore Emily Singleton.
Waxahachie (7-10, 1-2), though, had opportunities in the first, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings when they had at least one runner in scoring position and sometimes two.
Hannah Rash, the Lady Indians' most potent offensive weapon during the game, reached base in two of her three plate appearances (2-for-3 with the two single) and scored Sanchez. She also was 90 feet away from scoring a run after Andi Wallace reached base on an error and Talia Salinas singled in the seventh.
"I think we had three double plays — a little bit of bad luck — against us in the first three innings and we made a couple boo-boos here and there. That helped give them the lead," said Steve Howell, the WHS head softball coach. "Ultimately, it comes down to hitting. When clutch hitters don't hit, that's just the way it goes. We didn't play terribly. We had some errors we could have avoided and just didn't step it up and play to win. When big hitters don't hit, we lose. It's that simple. Some of it was bad luck, but you've got to overcome the bad luck.
"You've got to have a little good, too. It's a long season and they're going to beat some teams and that will help us. Now we're going to have to beat them at home."
While Waxahachie's "big hitters" failed to capitalize on opportunities, the Lady Panthers didn't.
Hlavaty's triple capped seven straight runs but Lady Panthers' lead power hitter Georgia Capell and ace Shelby Noah — who outdueled Waxahachie's Talia Salinas — opened the door six innings before.
Midlothian scored two runs in the first. Capell drove a single through the Lady Indian defense and eventually scored on a Hlavaty sacrifice fly and Hlavaty scored after a Perez single drove her across the plate.
While hits and runs by Singleton and Annabelle Anderson pushed the score to 4-0 by the top of the third inning, Noah kept the Lady Indian bats quiet despite hitting back-to-back batters in the first and allowing a hit to Rash in the second.
She struck out Kaylie Burdine in the third.
Noah was a key piece for the Lady Panthers, as the right-hander finished the game with her district ERA at 3.706. She finished with three strikeouts, two hits and one walk with 69 pitches and in six innings of work.
"Shelby battled tonight," Lozoya said about Noah's rebound from a rough first inning. "She found a way to work with the umpire's zone and get outs. I think that's the biggest change she had since struggling early in the season and district play. Shelby's done a better job of getting outs without thinking she has to challenge every batter."
Morgan Stevenson closed the seventh inning and allowed the Lady Indians' only two runs.
For Waxahachie, Salinas threw 131 pitches in six innings and struck out four, committed three errors and allowed 10 hits and seven runs on the mound and went 1-for-3 at the plate. Her single was one of the Lady Indians' six hits in 26 at-bats.
Rash, Sanchez, Wallace and Ariana Robles went a combined 6-for-11 and drove in one run.
Both teams will have quick turnarounds to Wednesday games and each will have a chance to dethrone an undefeated first place team in the district.
Midlothian will face Mansfield Lake Ridge at 2 p.m. at Lady Eagle Field. The (11-2, 3-0) Lady Eagles outscored Lancaster, Mansfield Summit and Red Oak High Schools 42-7 in the first three games of their district schedule. They beat Red Oak 16-1 Tuesday at Lady Hawk Field.
Waxahachie will face Hanabas and Mansfield Legacy 7 p.m. at Lady Indian Field. The (8-4, 3-0) Lady Broncos beat Midlothian 11-1 in the district opener and blew out both Lancaster and Mansfield Timberview in back-to-back district games by respective 17-0 and 12-2 margins.
"We're ahead of Lancaster and Red Oak and tied with Summit and it's a long season that's just started," Howell said. "If we can turn it on and hit we'll be alright. We need our big hitters, but it will still be a battle."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.