MANSFIELD — Softball isn't track and field, but for three innings Wednesday at Lady Eagle Field, the Lady Eagle-Lady Panther regional round matchup had all the feel of a track meet.
The 16-9 Mansfield Lake Ridge victory against Midlothian and game-one claim, too, went down to the last girl in blue or green.
"Lake Ridge came out and did what we expected for them to do and what they've done to other teams when they've put pressure on them," said Alejandro Lozoya, the Midlothian High School head softball coach. "Brittany Jackson's a beast up top. Britt Rufus is right behind her and Emily Olguin is a tough threat. If you're not paying attention, it'll be three infield bunts or slaps and the bases will be loaded. Kyla Marzette, a freshman, put us on our heels, too. Our girls did their best but when you have almost as many errors as you have runs, you can't win games at this stage of the playoffs."
Midlothian committed seven errors in seven innings. Three of those mistakes directly corresponded to at least four of the Lady Eagles' runs. Despite the prevalence of uncommon mistakes by his defense, Lozoya said pressure, not errors, was the key to the loss.
"It's their pressure that created those opportunities and we didn't execute," he continued. "We had the chances to get out of innings but we didn't capitalize. I've never seen so many dropped balls at first base or missed or rushed throws by our girls tonight compared to other games this season."
The way each team swung the bat, too, almost made fans forget about the 19-6 final difference in the Lady Eagles' and Lady Panthers' hit columns.
Capell (1-for-3, 1 RBI), Singleton (1-for-1, 3 RBI), Kaylee Hlavaty (1-for-4, 0 RBI) and Shelby Noah (2-for-4, 1 RBI) provided Midlothian's five hits. A leadoff double by Kylah Marzette in the third inning, a fourth-inning off-the-wall double and sixth-inning RBI triple by Jackson and a standup triple by Rufus and RBI single from Emily Olguin in the sixth rallied the Mansfield Lake Ridge troops.
Noah (1.56 ERA, 111 K) pitched three innings and allowed 12 runs on 10 hits, committed five errors and walked and struck out one batter each. Morgan Stevenson, who took the reigns in the bottom of the fourth, struck out one batter and allowed four runs on seven hits with 42 pitches.
The Lady Eagles reached base on 20 hits — the most allowed by Midlothian in 2017.
In the war of swings and shifts, though, one pitcher couldn't repeat the past and another had to trump it to affect the future.
"I really have to give it to my teammates, I backed me up and let me know they'll always be there for me. It was a pretty rough start and I'm not going to lie, the last game we played against Midlothian started to creep into my mind," said Kaily Gonzales, who gave up eight runs in six innings. "The same thing happen during the first or second inning when we were ahead. That's when their girl hit the home run, everything fell down and we lost. Sometimes I really struggle with coming back because I tend to get down on myself but they helped me take a deep breath and let me know I could do this."
On April 12, Gonzales gave up a leadoff homer to Georgia Capell and a two-run home run to Noah two batters later and never recovered. During game No. 1 of the regional quarterfinal round, she weathered two knockout blows and stayed standing.
One came courtesy a leadoff double by Capell and a RBI sacrifice by Annabel Anderson three batters deep in the first inning and the other via a monster three-run homer from Emily Singleton in the top of the third inning.
Whether it was near home runs by Brittany Jackson or Britt Rufus that fell inches short or a fence-clearing longball by Emily Singleton, Mansfield Lake Ridge and Midlothian High Schools went blow-for-blow during each plate appearance and at-bat.
"I think the difference between the beginning the game, when we really struggled to bring it back to the top, and the end of the game, when we got some key stops, really showed how much we pushed for this game," Gonzalez said. "Sometimes it was a diving catch or a basic defensive play. Other times, it was as simple as getting on base or driving in a run with two outs on the board. No matter which it was, each showed what we were willing to do to leave with a win."
The loss puts Midlothian's future behind the eight ball with the 7 p.m. Friday matchup against Mansfield Lake Ridge at Midlothian Heritage High School Jaguar Softball Field on the horizon. The Lady Eagles, which snapped the Lady Panthers' seven-game win streak, won their sixth consecutive game in a four-week span — including knocking off state champion favorite Mansfield Legacy High School 9-8 on April 13.
While Jackson (4-for-4, 0 RBI), Marzette (4-for-4, 2 RBI) and Kate Tovar (4-for-4, 3 RBI) finished perfect at the plate, Olguin, Rufus, Morgan Brannon, Kori Carr and Brileigh Peters accounted for the other eight hits.
"They small-balled us. It's the same way they beat Mansfield Legacy," Lozoya said. "As great of a ride as we've had, we were going to get to this point eventually. There are no gimme games this deep in the playoffs. When we got past the second round, we knew the hourglass was winding down and we only had either one, two or three weeks. I can't give enough credit to Coach (Cindy) Manley and how they played tonight, but this thing's not over. We still have Friday."
The winner of the series will face the victor of the Prosper and Forney High School regional quarterfinal matchup. Game one of that series is scheduled to be played at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.