The Piranhas path to the game stemmed from wins against the Cyclones, Grapeland Crossfire, Lexington Lightning and Belton Lightning. Thursday night’s loss to West dropped them into the losers’ bracket and rematch with their Belton counterparts.
The game was a tight affair, with the Lightning being set down in order in the top of the first by Piranhas starter Hannah Kelley, Lightning starting pitcher Lexi Benson found herself in a one-out jam in the bottom of the first following a walk to McKayla Seeliger, single by Payton Cook and a wild pitch advanced them to produce a two runners in scoring position situation. But Benson caught Maddison Parker looking on a called third-strike and ground out by Kelley to end the inning without damage.
The Lightning struck the run column in the second inning. Elizabeth Ford singled to left field. Paige Nunes bunted on the next play, but the Piranhas could not throw Ford out at second in time. Following a Janet Te Poel swinging strikeout, Rachel Bledsoe doubled home Ford and Nunes, putting the Lightning up 2-0.
The Piranhas loaded up the bases in the bottom of the inning. KaLynn Smith and Lindsey Ratcliffe walked and Nadia Frausto was hit across the helmet bill with a pitch. Benson induced a grounder on the third baseline by Morgan Potter close enough to tag out Smith in the base line and caught Seeliger looking on a called third-strike to get herself and the Lightning temporarily out of harms way on the score board.
Following a top of the third inning that produced only one runner for the Lightning, the Piranhas found a mid-game feeding opportunity. Cook hit a slow-rolling grounder to second base, which ended up between the pitching circle, first and second base. Lack of communication between the three positions landed Cook on first to start the rally. Cook advanced to third on consecutive wild pitches by Benson during Parker’s at-bat, which she walked. Cook scored on a 2-2 count wild pitch during Kelley’s at-bat, which resulted in a swinging strikeout. Smith walked and Frausto singled in Parker to tie the score at 2-2. Smith scored on a wild pitch to give the Piranhas a 3-2 lead. Following a strikeout, a throwing error on a bunt by Ratcliffe plated Frausto for another run. Potter singled home Ratcliffe, ending Benson’s night in the circle. Miranda Davila took the ball in relief and the Piranhas carried a 5-2 lead out of the third inning.
The Lightning missed an opportunity with runners in scoring position in the third, as Nunes singled to right field and stole second base and third base. Bledsoe walked and advanced to second base. But runners were stranded, which would be huge point in the game that haunted the Lightning later.
The Piranhas added what ended up being insurance runs in the fourth inning. With one out, a single by Parker and walk by Kelley set up an RBI double off the bat of Smith to make the score 6-2. A sacrifice squeeze bunt by Frausto scored Kelley to increase the lead to five. On a 2-1 pitch to Rebecca Taggart, a passed ball scored Frausto and the Piranhas led 8-2.
With the Lightning running out of time on the 1:45 time limit clock, they produced a furious charge in the top of the fifth.
The inning started off with a double by Aly Lopez. But her momentum carried her off the base at second on the late throw from Frausto in right field to Potter covering second and was tagged out for the first out, which produced another critical moment in the game. A single by Davila and a trio of consecutive doubles by Benson, Ford and Nunes brought the score to 8-5. Te Poel worked Kelley to the tune of an 11-pitch at bat. On the 11th pitch, Te Poel fouled off the ball, but stepped on home plate and was called out. Another turning point in a furious rally. Following another single, Josie Flores hit a pinch-hit double to score two runs and make the score 8-7. But a strikeout ended the inning with four minutes left on the time clock and the Piranhas bled out the time to win the game and earn themselves at shot at West for the championship.
Although the Lightning finished third in state, it is one position higher than last year.
“I am so proud of the girls,” said Lightning coach Ben Lopez in his speech to the parents after the game. “The girls showed fight and heart. They will go on to do great things, not only in softball, but in life.”
The Piranhas took on West in the finals. Seeliger hit a single with one out in the first inning. But a Cook dying-liner was snagged by the right fielder and threw back to first in time to double off Seeliger and quiet the Piranhas.
Following West taking a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, Parker tripled to right-center field to lead off the top of the second. She scored when Kelley grounded out to the pitcher to even the score at 1-1.
West scored two runs in the bottom of the second and another run in the bottom of the third to give them a 4-1 advantage.
The Piranhas didn’t get another shot, as they could only muster one runner in scoring position and two base runners in the final four innings. West played softball in the manner they were known for: timely hitting, stout defense and precision pitching. Those three elements shut down the Piranhas, as West clinched the title and the Piranhas finished second.
“We want to salute West for all they have been through, with the explosion and rebuilding,” said Piranhas coach Shane Smith. “Our girls played great tonight, but West played well in the tournament.”
As both sides received their awards and both sets of fans mingled on the field, the most telling sign of the evening of the mutual admiration of Belton and West fans and players. The combined team picture is an indelible memory of a great tournament and sign of great things to come from these young ladies, both from Belton and from West.