Italy — Hits to the fence, stolen bases, double plays and strong pitching from the Italy Lady Gladiators show a steadily improving team despite a tough loss to, the district leading, Grandview on Tuesday. A slugfest between the district’s top two contenders lit up the horizon as hit softballs exploded into the air from both sides.
Italy remains in second place with a 7-2 district record while Grandview currently stands alone at the top with an unblemished district record of 9-0. The Lady Gladiators put up a fight for head coach, Jennifer Reeves, and her assistant coaches, Tina Richards and Michael Chambers during the rematch from an early meeting on March 16, in which Grandview won 9-3 over an Italy team that was plagued with errors.
It was a different story on Tuesday thanks to a monumental defensive effort by the Lady Gladiators that kept the pressure on Grandview who led 2-0 early but spent the remainder of the game desperately trying to contain Italy’s offensive barrage.
Grandview led off with a grounder back to Italy’s senior pitcher, Megan Richards, who passes to first baseman, Jaclynn Lewis, for the first out. Grandview follows with a popup single that drops in fair down the left field line. Tara Wallis, who was patrolling left field for Italy, rushes over to collect the ball and quickly throws to second baseman, Paige Westbrook, to hold the runner at first. Lady Gladiator catcher, Alyssa Richards, tries to catch the Zebra runner before she can steal second but an aggressive slide and a bobble by shortstop, Bailey Bumpus, gives Grandview the base.
Again, Grandview airs one out to left field which scores the runner from second base for an RBI single. Grandview leads 1-0. The resulting triple ends with the sliding Lady Zebra going cleat first into the legs of third baseman, Katie Byers, who avoids injury but is unable to make the catch and have a chance for the tag. Megan Richards chases down the overthrow behind home plate to pin the runner at third.
Megan Richards strikes out the next batter for the second out. Grandview then grounds out to Westbrook, at second, who throws to Lewis at first base for out number three.
Trying to keep pace with the Lady Zebras, Megan Richards leads off with a line drive hit into the left gap for a single. Bumpus grounds out but advances Megan Richards to second base. Lewis goes down swinging for the second out but not before Megan Richards reaches third base. Alyssa Richards grounds out for the third out, stranding Italy’s lone runner at third.
In the top of the second inning, Grandview’s first batter gets a walk. The next batter grounds to a charging Byers who makes the throw from third to Lewis at first for the first out. With a runner now on second, a high fly ball is caught by Alma Suaste in right field for out number two. However, the sacrifice fly scores another run for Grandview and gives the Lady Zebra’s a 2-0 advantage.
Bumpus fields a grounder hit to her at shortstop and delivers the throw to Lewis, still at first base, for the third out. Italy returns to the dugout hoping to get something going offensively.
In the bottom of the second, Italy’s Madison Washington belts a fly ball that is caught near the left field fence for the first out. Westbrook battles at the plate and earns a walk to first. Suaste flies out to center field for the second out. Byers grounds out for the third out stranding Westbrook.
Now, in the top of the third, Coach Reeves switches pitcher Megan Richards with Lewis in an effort to keep Grandview’s hitters from getting comfortable. Grandview quickly gets a runner on base but a grounder hit to Westbrook allows her to toss it to Bumpus for a force out at second. Bumpus relays the throw to Megan Richards, at first, but the batter reaches first base in time, still one out with one on.
A fly ball to shallow left divides the distance between the infield and the outfield but Bumpus hustles back for the catch and then throws on a line to first base to catch the runner off the bag for a double play to end the top half of the inning.
Italy is unable to make a mark in the scoring column during the bottom of the third, and with Lewis still on the mound for the Lady Gladiators, Grandview is unable to extend their lead in the top of the fourth-inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Alyssa Richards helps Italy mount an offensive attack with a line drive single to center field. Washington flies out to right field for the first out but allows her teammate to reach second base during her at bat. Westbrook flies out as well and Alyssa Richards must hold at second base. Suaste rockets a sharp grounder past Grandview’s diving third baseman but the ball’s path is halted by Grandview’s diving shortstop, holding Italy’s runners at first and second.
Byers powers a fly ball to left field but Grandview catches it on the run for the third out as Italy strands two more runners. The score remains in favor of the Lady Zebras, 2-0, as the game moves into the top of the fifth-inning.
Grandview, realizing Italy is not backing down, keeps focus knowing two runs may not be enough to keep their undefeated district record from being tarnished. Coach Reeves, sensing the concern from Grandview’s side of the field, again makes a pitching change switching Megan Richards and Lewis back to their original defensive positions. Bumpus fields a grounder hit to short but the throw is not in time and the Lady Zebras have one on base.
The next Grandview batter can only muster a popup back to the mound where Megan Richards makes the catch for the first out. A liner hit toward second base is knocked down by a diving Westbrook who, from her knees, flips the ball to Bumpus for the force out at second base, two outs. Byers fields a grounder and fires the ball over to first base. Lewis digs the tip of her mitt into the hallowed sand for the catch and then raises her glove high above her head to prove to the ump she has the catch. As the scooped sand showers the freshman, Lewis gets the third out call and then spits sand from her mouth as her and her teammates hurry for the dugout.
In the bottom of the fifth, Bailey Eubank slaps a popup to the mound for the first out. Megan Richards takes an “I’ve seen enough” approach to the plate and drives a fast-moving fly ball to the right field wall. Grandview’s right fielder reaches up for the catch as the Lady Zebra outfielders continue to save the day for their pitcher. With two outs, Bumpus swings and misses for strike three and the third out.
In the top of the sixth-inning, a Grandview grounder speeds past the outstretched glove of Byers at third. Fortunately, Bumpus had her back and made the throw to Lewis at first base for the first out. A screaming one-hop grounder to the mound is caught by Megan Richards at her waist line who then calmly throws to first base for the second out. A Grandview blooper clears the glove of a lunging Westbrook, at second, for a Lady Zebra single.
Grandview follows with a foul ball toward Italy’s fan base that is tracked down by both Megan Richards and Lewis from first. Megan Richards makes the snag despite bumping into Lewis. Lewis holds on to her pitcher to keep both players away from the fence. The effort play gets Italy the third out and helps to keep the Lady Gladiators within striking distance of Grandview.
Lewis popped up to second base, Washington hits a popup to the mound and Westbrook hit a fly ball to right field but Grandview makes the needed catches and escapes the bottom of the sixth clinging to their 2 run advantage.
To start the top of the seventh inning, Byers fields a grounder and defiantly makes the throw to Lewis at first base for the first out. Grandview hits a soaring fly ball to deep centerfield and Washington goes back, back and back to make an over-the-head catch for out number two. Washington gives a quick celebratory shimmy as her teammates bellow with laughter. The freshman provided a moment of levity to the intense occasion but it was soon back to business for the Lady Gladiators. Grandview pops one up to third and Byers makes the catch for out number three.
Needing to tie and extend the game or 3 runs to win, Alma Suaste is first up for the Lady Gladiators. Suaste hits a grounder to third but is unable to beat the throw to first, one out. Byers bloops one over the outstretched mitt of Grandview’s third baseman. The ball plops down behind her into the moist sand as Byers reaches first base on the single. Coach Reeves puts in Kelsey Nelson as a pinch runner for Byers. Eubank slaps a popup toward third and Nelson takes off for second. Grandview’s third baseman makes the catch for the second out and quickly shoots the ball over to first, catching Nelson far enough away from the bag for the games third and final out.
The dramatic double play helps to give Grandview the 2-0 win, keeps them in the district’s top spot and hands Italy it’s second district loss of the season, both to the Lady Zebras. The Lady Gladiators, however, played some of their best softball Tuesday night and are currently in second place and have a solid chance to make the playoffs with only a few district games left.
The Lady Gladiators will be in Maypearl on Friday, April 13, to take on the Lady Panthers.