Play Together To Stay Together. That’s the 2016 motto of the Little River Academy Lady Bees that they continued into 2017.
They can add a title to their name: 2017 Class 3A State Softball Champions.
Down 3-2 in the top of the seventh inning, the Lady Bees put together an offensive swarm highlighted by a two-run triple off the wall by Gaby Hay and RBI single by Kennedy Jimenez pushed the Lady Bees out in front. The defense provided the closing sting in a 5-3 win over Kingsville Santa Gertrudis Academy in front of a completed packed house at Red and Charline McCombs Field in Austin on Thursday night.
The game started as a pitchers duel between Hay (34-7) and Lady Lions’ hurler Saidi Castillo (24-2). Hay retired the first six batters and Castillo allowed just a walk to Hay to lead off the game.
Makayla Henry led off the third inning with a single after battling for nine pitches. Kylah Hulsey sacrificed Henry to second and Kenidi White drove in Henry with a single to center field. Hay drove home White with an opposite field poke to short left field to put Academy up 2-0.
It didn’t take long for Santa Gertrudis to answer with a pair of unearned runs. With one out, two singles and an error gave the Lady Lions runners at second and third. With two outs, Yadira Lopez’s two-run single tied the ball game at 2-2.
Hay and Castillo each allowed and stranded runners in the fourth inning. Castillo retired the Lady Bees in order in the top of the fifth inning.
Ali Salinas hit a line shot off of third baseman Avery McDaniel and the ball rolled into foul territory in short left field. Jimenez sprinted for the ball, as Salinas ran to second. Jimenez’s throw to second ended up wide and it rolled into right field to send Salinas to third base. Kasey Woolard fielded a mistimed bunt attempt by Alyssa Robles for the first out. Alyssa Gonzalez blooped a ball that fell in front of Henry in left field. Salinas broke for the plate and the strong-armed Henry threw to the plate. The throw was a split second too late, scoring Salinas. Destini Hulsey then threw down to Jimenez to tag out Gonzalez at second, who was attempting to take an extra base.
“At this level in the playoffs, you are going to face teams that are going to hit the ball,” Hay said. “You have to know that and I wasn’t getting down. I totally trust my defense in any game.”
The throw out by Destini Hulsey proved to be an important play in the game, as Yadira Lopez and Jackie De Los Santos each singled to put runners at first and second. Hay got Kennedy Silva to ground out to White at second to end the inning. Had the throw out not occurred, the Lady Lions could have potentially done more damage.
Academy had a golden chance to tie the ball game in the top of the sixth. With two outs, Destini Hulsey singled, Desi Bolin came in to courtesy run and was moved to second on Lenzi Stewart’s single. Castillo fanned Woolard to end the threat.
Hay retired the Lady Lions in order in the sixth inning and the Lady Bees back to the plate in the top of the seventh inning.
Henry, the catalyst of the third inning rally, singled to start the seventh inning. Kylah Hulsey beat out a sacrifice bunt attempt for a single. White’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third base to bring up Hay.
“At that point, I stopped Gaby and just told her, ‘No matter what happens, man, I wouldn’t want anybody else up. I just wanted to share this moment with you,’” Academy head coach Gus Beuershausen, who was coaching third base at the time, time. “But I had a feeling was going to rip one.”
On a 1-1 offering from Castillo, Hay smashed the ball high off of the right centerfield wall. It scored Henry and Kylah Hulsey and landed Hay at third to put Academy up 4-3.
“She was pitching me outside all day and she came in high and up with the pitch,” Hay recalled. “And I love high pitches. I knew I had to get on top of it. I had so much adrenaline going and swung as hard as I could.”
The hit stunned the Santa Gertrudis faithful and had the fans of The Hive on their feet and roaring. On the very next pitch, Jimenez singled home Hay and gave the Lady Bees an insurance run to make the score 5-3. Castillo got the last two outs to escape the inning with three runs allowed.
Hay induced a Robles fly out to Jimenez at shortstop and a Gonzalez fly out to White at second base.
“That last inning, we were getting out by out and I’m sitting there going ‘Is this really happening? Are we about to win the state championship?’” a teary-eyed Beuershausen said. “I know everybody said it, but you don’t realize it totally until…it might be tomorrow before I realize it.”
On a 1-0 pitch, Yadira Lopez hit a line shot off of Hay’s glove in the circle. Hay dropped to her knees, recovered to retrieve the ball and throw it to patiently waiting Woolard at first base for the championship-clinching out. Beuershausen, assistant coaches Sydney Eary, Thomas Pickerill and the Lady Bees flew out of The Hive and swarmed Hay in the middle of the diamond, as the ecstatic Academy fans cheered the team’s first softball championship.
The softball championship was the area’s first state championship since Troy won in 2007.
Hay was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player. In the circle, the southpaw went seven innings, allowed three runs (all unearned), on six hits, walked one and struck out two. At the plate, she went 2-of-3 with three RBI, including the go-ahead run in the seventh. Hay has been at the epicenter of much of the adversity Academy has faced in the playoffs. It was the best ending that the team could ask for.
“I felt that in every round, we faced adversity,” Hay said. “Ever since the West game (4-3 Regional Semifinal game one walkoff loss, after leading 3-1) and Grandview (7-6 Regional Final game one walk-off win, after being down 6-1 in the fifth inning), we were just fearless out there. If we have another inning or another at bat, we are going to get this done. We are going to make it happen somehow.”
The crowd support on the Academy side was deafening at times. The team felt the support and it lifted them up.
“It was amazing the support that we got,” Hay said. “It was a little intimidating yesterday (State semifinal) because we had never played in front of a crowd that big before. But, with the support, we heard them non-stop on our side today. It was a lot better. It was more relaxing to hear them cheer for us.”
The senior class of Hay, Jimenez, McDaniel, Destini Hulsey and Lenzi Stewart, dubbed “The Fab Five” by their teammates, will be remembered as a passionate, spirited group. A group that will hold a great spot in the hearts of Beuershausen, his staff and the Little River Academy Softball program.
“The memories that we had, the spirit that we had and how much fun that we had,” Hay said. “I love our coaches. It will be sad to play for another coach and another team. It’s going to be hard.”
“I told them at the beginning of the game, ‘We’ve taken this as far as you can take it. There’s no more softball to play,’” Beuerhausen said. “Our motto was, “We play together to stay together’ because this is about making memories and being together.”
As the Lady Bees and their fans traveled home from Austin on Thursday night, the final chapter of their 2017 season ends up in the history book of Texas UIL Softball. The 2017 Class 3A State Softball Champions: Little River Academy.