IRVING – Friday’s area playoff game could either be interpreted in one of two ways – Midlothian was underrated or Keller was overrated. The Lady Panthers will have little comfort in either.
Facing the No. 6 state-ranked Lady Indians at Irving Nimitz in a one-game area playoff battle, Midlothian put up a valiant fight for seven innings. Keller’s lone run came in the third inning on two balls that never left the infield but in the end it was enough to secure a 1-0 win sending the Lady Panthers packing.
“I told the girls it’s an honor and a privilege to be out there with them. I can’t ask for anything more from any of them,” coach Frank Griffin said. “It’s been an outstanding year. It’s was an outstanding game. There’s no place I’d rather be than with them.”
Both teams struggled offensively to string anything together. Keller’s first break of the game turned out to be its biggest as Kristin Watkins led the inning off with a swinging bunt that died down the third base line allowing her to reach first. Kelsey Grant followed her by having a pitch graze her helmet to put two runners on.
Azia Branson moved both runners over with a sacrifice bunt to bring the top of the Lady Indian order back around. Leadoff hitter Autumn Suydam came through with the team’s lone run of the night sending a ball to short for an RBI ground out to plate the only run of the game.
Midlothian tried to answer in the third inning as Aizia Azarcon broke up the no-hitter with a double to the wall in left center. The next two batters, both pinch hitters, produced outs as the rally ended there. The Lady Panthers put two runners on in the fourth inning with one out on back-to-back singles by Amanda Claus and Reagan Luedtke. It was the only consecutive hits of the game for either team and it turned out not to matter as a hard shot to second base allowed Keller to turn an inning-ending double-play to erase the threat.
Azarcon capped her night with a single in the fifth inning but the Lady Panthers were unable to produce anything with two outs already. The final six batters of the game were retired in order.
Both teams got stout pitching from their respective starters. Keller ace Katie Ramsay limited the Midlothian bats to four hits on the night while striking out four. Megan Spence countered with a strong effort of her own, holding the Lady Indians to just three hits while walking just one and hitting one. In a big game situation like this one, Griffin was extremely pleased with his pitcher’s effort.
“She’s going to get an opportunity to move on and play at the next level and Keller’s a team full of people who are going to get to do the exact same thing,” Griffin said. “She showed why she’s getting that opportunity to go to the next level. She did an outstanding job. She had great spin on the ball tonight and they hit a lot of them in the dirt and we were able to make plays.”
Both pitchers didn’t have their best strikeout material, relying heavily on their defenses to make up for the difference.
Spence forced Keller batters into 19 infield outs with six of those going to shortstop Marissa Baltierra. The junior infielder threw a runner out at home plate on a ground ball and helped Claus turn an inning-ending double-play in the sixth.
The Lady Panthers did make one fielding error but it turned out not to matter thanks to that throw out at home by Baltierra. Spence aided her own cause by recording four groundouts, the second most of any player behind Baltierra.
While it was an impressive performance against one of the premiere teams in the state, it was an effort that fell just short of keeping the season alive.
“We knew coming in that they were a good team and we knew that we were going to have to play lights out in order to get it done and I really think we did,” Griffin said. “Our girls stepped up, they played great defense. Even though they got the one run, they played outstanding defense. Had one error on the night, that’s almost perfect and we can’t ask for too much more as a coaching staff.”
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