MIDLOTHIAN — Friday night's one-game area playoff game at Lady Panther Field at the Midlothian Sports Complex was almost a pitcher's duel between Aydee Cardenas and Shelby Noah.
Emily Singleton's second inning RBI double erased those hopes from at least one set of fans at the complex.
"Whenever I got up to bat I just felt this fight in me, like I wanted to hit no matter what," Singleton said. "Nothing was really going through my mind. It was kind of surreal. I just had an urge to hit and I was going to hit [the ball] as hard as I could."
While Singleton's hit drove in Sierra Mihailov, a sacrifice fly two batters later from Tatum Sorrels and a RBI single off the bat of Megan Martens turned a one-run deficit into three.
Noah's bat, which helped close the game in a fun-ruled fifth inning, was almost as valuable as her right arm. She accounted for 2 of 17 players to log quality at-bats in 20 place appearances and joined Singleton, Sorrels, Annabel Anderson, Megan Martens and Lexi Perez as the five Lady Panthers responsible for the team's nine RBIs.
"Hillcrest was a tough team in the way they played us," Lozoya said. "At first, there were a lot of fly balls and balls just couldn't find the ground. If we had started earlier, I think we would have had better offensive rhythm, but we started hitting and figured out a way to get our 10 runs and the run rule. There were a lot of reasons why we got the win and moved on in the playoffs. Emily came in and set the tone with the double strip off the wall and so did Sierra after she drove the ball off the left field wall. No expects your catalyst to be in the eight-hole and what Tatum provides at that spot is invaluable. "
While Sorrels (2-for-2) and Martens (2-for-2, 2 RBI) led Midlothian in hits and RBIs, Anderson, Noah, Perez, Singleton and Sorrels accounted for the Lady Panthers' nine RBIs.
Midlothian's defense and pitching presence, too, ensured the game was a one-way argument for which team would advance to the regional quarterfinal round against Mansfield Lake Ridge High School.
Defensively, Noah limited the Hillcrest Panthers to two hits, allowed no runs, walked a single batter and struck out nine with 70 pitches. Only five of the 18 Hillcrest Lady Panthers' at-bats — by Abigail Cardenas, Doloris Formeta, Johanna Gonzalez, Jackie Molina and Seidi Zamarron — earned quality plate appearances that ended in extra-base hits, six-pitch at-bats, runs scored by sacrifice fly or ground balls or walks.
The Lady Panthers also committed only one error. It was the lowest total since going errorless during 13-6 bi-district game No. 1 victory against Burleson High School.
Their regional quarterfinal opponent, however, is a different story.
Despite beating Mansfield Lake Ridge 14-7 on March 15 and 12-7 on April 12, the Lady Eagles have won five consecutive games. They outscored Grandbury, Mansfield Legacy and Timberview, Seagoville and Waxahachie High Schools 43-27 with doubles by Morgan Brannon, Brittany Jackson and Kate Tovar, triples by Emily Olguin and home runs by Kyla Marzette.
Mansfield Lake Ridge, like Midlothian, faces a first in their program's history. While the Lady Panthers hadn't reached the regional quarterfinal round since former head coach Jennifer McFalls took them in when the Lady Panthers were part of the UIL 4A class, the Lady Eagles reached the round for the first time in its team's five-year history.
Given the hot streak, Lozoya said his girls would have to take advantages of missed opportunities to beat a coach and a team the caliber of Cindy Manley and Mansfield Lake Ridge in what he expects to be a grueling three-game series.
"We have to be better at attacking strikes and taking what pitch they give us," Lozoya said. "If we're looking at an away pitch and we're swinging inside that's not a good combination. People say it's tough beating a team you already beat twice and it's true. I don't think the score reflects how close the Lake Ridge games were. It's going to be a whole new week and a whole new game and that's the mentality we've got to take into the game with us if we want to be successful and move on."
Midlothian will face Mansfield Lake Ridge in a three-game series starting at 7 p.m. on Thursday and Lady Eagle Field. The two teams will play game No. 2 at 7 p.m. on Friday at Midlothian Heritage Jaguar Softball Field and if needed, game No. 3 will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lady Eagle FIeld.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.