NACOGDOCHES – Cruising to 19 wins in their first 21 league games, the Texas State softball team hasn’t been tested much during the Southland Conference season.
But the test came on Sunday. And the Bobcats were ready with clutch hitting, alert defense and strong pitching. When the Bobcats needed hitters to pick up the pitcher, they did it. When they needed one fielder to pick up another, it happened.
In the end, back-to-back eighth-inning doubles McKenzie Baack and Leah Boatright decided the game, breaking a 1-1 tie and giving the Bobcats a crucial 2-1 win Sunday at Stephen F. Austin.
But the game, from beginning to end, was about hanging tough. The victory enabled Texas State to avoid a three-game sweep from SFA, which would have moved to within 1 1/2 games of first place with a win.
The Bobcats went to SFA this weekend with a 4 1/2-game Southland lead and only nine games remaining in their league season. With a three-game sweep over the second-place Ladyjacks, Texas State would have clinched no worse than a tie for the regular season title.
But SFA saddled Texas State with a sweep of 2-1, 7-2 Saturday, suddenly putting the Bobcats into survival mode.
With Sunday’s win, the Bobcats survived and then some, pushing their league lead back up to 3 1/2 games with six games remaining.
Baack and Boatright doubled right after Texas State pitcher Ragan Blake gave up a seventh-inning homer to SFA’s Kim Daley, which tied the game, 1-1, and forced it into extra innings. The home run was Blake’s one misstep after she dodged trouble all day.
The Ladyjacks (30-18 overall, 16-7 Southland) mounted a threat in the bottom of the eighth with a single and a walk with one out. But Blake forced Ashley Struchtemeyer to ground out before striking out Moriah Davis to end the game.
Texas State (30-15, 20-4) scored the game’s first run in the second inning when Jenna Emery doubled with two outs and Aston Peters followed with a base hit for her second RBI in as many games.
The Bobcats held tight to their slim lead with strong defense and timely pitching.
The Ladyjacks put runners at first and third with one out in their half of the fourth, but Blake struck out Struchtemeyer to ease the pressure. When Davis followed with a sharp ground ball, Bobcats shortstop Alex Newton made a diving stop to keep it in the infield and prevent the runner on third from scoring. Blake whiffed Daley to end the inning.
Monica Hirsch led off the SFA fifth with a double, opening up another touchy situation for Blake. The game’s strangest play followed. Kendall Harper laid down a bunt in an effort to advance Hirsch. But third baseman Emery’s throw to first hit Harper in the back. When Hirsch took off for home, second baseman Ryan Kos nailed her with a throw to the plate.
Blake (15-9) pitched the entire eight innings, striking out six while allowing one run on eight hits and three walks.
Texas State returns to action Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. when the Bobcats travel to College Station to take on Texas A&M.
The Bobcats will return to Southland competition next weekend, when Sam Houston visits for a Saturday doubleheader (1 p.m.) and a Sunday single game (noon). A three-game sweep for the Bobcats would clinch the Southland regular season title.