AUSTIN -- It's pretty cut and dry. That's the haunting thing.

Hughes Springs and Little River Academy might have gone all night Wednesday at Red and Charline McCombs Field on the University of Texas campus if the East Texas squad had converted a gutsy run through signal at third base in the bottom of the third. The Lady Mustangs didn't convert, and they ultimately lost the right to advance to the state championship game by a score of 3-2.

But it was the UIL Softball State Tournament and they were chasing the ghost of a nine-run loss to Little River Academy during non-district play. Coach Trisha Thompson, who sent sophomore Shelbie Fickling scrambling from second base to home, had no regrets.

"I wouldn't change anything about sending that girl home," Thompson said. "They had to make a perfect throw home. You're here in front of a big crowd, and (the fielder) did exactly that. I wouldn't change it."

The sequence that held the game in check started when Fickling drove a one-out hit to deep right field for a two-bagger. Haylee Wilson immediately followed it up with a single to right field, but Little River Academy's Kylah Hulsey recovered while Fickling was being waved around and laced a throw to the plate for the out.

Starting pitcher Marisol Kennedy's double the very next at-bat had the room to score both Fickling and Wilson for a 3-3 tie.

Hughes Springs (34-4) could have afforded a better start. It's easy to make an argument it was the better team through the latter six and a half innings considering its flawless defensive effort and the fact timely offensive execution showed up in spurts.

Little River Academy (36-8) won in the hit column, 11 to four, but Hughes Springs battled or stood in for an additional six base runners via walks and hit-by-pitches. The Lady Mustangs got 10 runners aboard in total to Little River Academy's 11 runners.

Kennedy was perfect in the sense she never gave up a runner without contact.

Hughes Springs' claw back effort began immediately. Leadoff hitter Peyton Blythe took a 1-2 pitch to the ribs, got bounced around by contact and scored on cleanup hitter Haylee Wilson's ground out to shortstop.

Yet two runners were stranded in the second inning, the aggressive third-inning attempt fell flat and the Lady Mustangs went on to leave another five runners on the bags in the game's final four innings.

Hughes Springs was statistically the better team on defense, which led to a somewhat dramatic finish.

Fickling grounded to shortstop with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. The ball went right through the defender's legs for the sole error in the contest and gave the Lady Mustangs one last chance.

Wilson grounded out the next at-bat.

"Yes, we left quite a few runners on base, but we never stopped fighting," Thompson said. "I have to give Little River credit. That's the best hitting team we've seen all year."

Little River Academy advanced to play in today's 3A state championship game at 6 p.m. against Santa Gertrudis Academy.

Santa Gertrudis Academy defeated Brock in the other semifinal game, 8-2.

Hughes Springs will return eight of nine starters and all three of its non-starters next season.

"These girls have had a tough road," Thompson said. "They've worked very hard and have done everything we've asked of them. And more. I just couldn't ask anything more of them."

-- Video courtesy of Greg Sherman

Little River Academy 3, Hughes Springs 2

Class 3A State Semifinals
At Red and Charline McCombs Field, Austin

LRA                        300    000   0    —    3      11   1
Hughes Springs      101    000   0    —    2      4     0

Pitchers and catchers

  • LRA: Gaby Hay and Destini Hulsey
  • Hughes Springs: Marisol Kennedy and Kennedi Northam

WP -- Hay
LP -- Kennedy

Doubles

  • Hughes Springs: Kennedy, Shelbie Fickling