The Little River-Academy Lady Bees took to Red and Charline McCombs Field on the University of Texas Campus in Austin on Wednesday night in search of a Texas UIL Class 3A State Championship game berth.
They faced an extremely worthy opponent in the Hughes Springs Lady Mustangs in the state semifinals in front of 1,067 supportive fans that were treated to a game that featured twists and turns that had them on the edge of their seats.
Academy pieced together four consecutive hits in the first inning, gathered three runs and relied on the Lady Bees’ defense and left-hander Gaby Hay in the circle the rest of the way. Academy won the ball game 3-2 and will face Santa Gertrudis Academy on Thursday night at McCombs Field.
The Lady Bees drew the visiting side of the docket and wasted no time getting to Hughes Springs’ talented starter Marisol Kennedy. Academy shortstop Kennedy Jimenez lined a single between shortstop and third base for the first Lady Bees’ runner of the game with one out in the first inning. Avery McDaniel followed suit with a single in the same spot. On the very next pitch, Destini Hulsey smacked a double that two-hopped the wall to score Jimenez and drive McDaniel to third base. Lenzi Stewart drilled the next pitch to right centerfield to score Destini and McDaniel. The three-run stinger gave Academy at 3-0 lead.
The Lady Mustangs answered with some small-ball and hustle. Peyton Blythe was hit with a 2-1 Hay change up. Kennedi Northam sacrificed Blythe to second and Shelbie Fickling walked. Haylie Wilson grounded to Jimenez at shortstop. Jimenez couldn’t get the speedy Blythe at third and threw to first to get the guaranteed out. Blythe never let up at third base and scored on a close play at the plate to decrease Academy’s advantage to 3-1.
In the bottom of the second inning, Hay got into a little trouble with two outs. She pitched Charlie Reeves inside and hit her with a 2-1 offering. Katelyn Roth walked on four pitches and forced Hay to step back to take a deep breath. She calmly toed the slab and got Blythe to fly out to Lenzi Stewart to retire the Lady Mustangs.
Academy threatened to blow the game open in the top of the third inning with one out. Destini Hulsey and Lenzi Stewart singled. Kasey Woolard grounded to shortstop Kensley Echols and flipped to Pearl Perry at third base to force out Destini. Lilli Stewart came on to courtesy run for Woolard and Makayla Henry singled to load the bases. Kennedy got Kylah Hulsey to pop out to catcher Northam to end the Lady Bees swarming threat.
Hughes Springs tallied a run in the bottom of the third inning. With one out, Fickling doubled to right field. On a 1-0 pitch, Wilson singled to right field. Kylah Hulsey sprinted to get the ball and fired a bullet to Destini Hulsey at the plate to cut down Fickling who attempted to score. With the Academy fans still buzzing about the sister-to-sister put out, Kennedy singled to right field and Kylah came up throwing again to Destini. The throw was on time, but just tipped off Destini’s glove and allowed Wilson to score. Hay got Echols to ground out to Jimenez at shortstop to end the inning. The Lady Mustangs trailed 3-2.
Academy’s last serious rally was in the top of the fourth inning. With one out, Hay singled to centerfield and Jimenez hit a blistering shot past third baseman Perry for a single. On a 1-0 pitch to McDaniel, Hay and Jimenez pulled off a double-steal to put two runners in scoring position. Kennedy got McDaniel to pop out to Echols at shortstop and Destini Hulsey to line out to Perry at third to escape the jam.
Hay worked the Lady Mustangs batters inside again in the bottom of the fifth inning, hit Fickling and Wilson on successive pitches and they moved up to second and third on a wild pitch. Hay then settled down, worked back towards the middle of the plate, got Kennedy to fly out to Kennidi White at second base and struck out Echols to neutralize another Hughes Springs’ scoring threat.
The Academy defense then locked The Hive down. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Hay induced a pair of fly outs to start. Roth hit a ball into the gap between first base and where White was positioned. With Roth bearing down the line, White glove-flipped a throw to an awaiting Woolard at first for the third out of the inning. The play brought the Academy fans to their feet again.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Hay worked ahead of each batter and the Lady Bees’ defense that helped out their southpaw hurler. Blythe grounded to Woolard at first, Northam ground to White at second and Wilson grounded to McDaniel at third to end the ball game to punch their ticket to play Santa Gertrudis Academy Thursday evening on McCombs Field at 6 p.m.
Hay, Jimenez, Lenzi Stewart, and Henry each had two hits. As a team, the Lady Bees had 11 hits and left eight runners on base.
Hay also picked up the win in the circle. She tossed seven innings, allowed two runs, scattered four hits, hit four batters, walked one and struck out two.
In post game, Academy head coach Gus Beuershausen was extremely pleased with his team’s performance and persistence.
“The girl’s made good defensive plays when they needed to and Gaby did what she needed to do,” Beuershausen said.
Academy will face a solid Santa Gertrudis team, who beat Brock in the other semifinal game by a score of 8-2.
“We’ve talked about this for four years,” Beuershausen said. “Our motto from last year carried over to this year: Play Together To Stay Together. The most important thing is to keep this team together for as long as possible. I just told the girls just now that you’ve taken it as far as you can take it. No matter what happens tomorrow, we’re champions regardless. Tomorrow, we have some business to do and we’re going to enjoy it.”