Pleasant Grove Softball Stuns Van In 4A Regional Quarterfinals
COMMERCE -- Van had ended Pleasant Grove's season the past two years and, as the No. 4 team state-wide in the latest Class 4A TGCA poll, the writing was pretty much on the wall for the Lady Hawks a third time.
Other teams in the situation might have just appreciated the fact they advanced to the regional quarterfinal round for the first time in school history. Pleasant Grove didn't see it that way.
The Lady Hawks won a pre-series coin toss, elected to take on Van in a one-game playoff, and on Thursday evening they scratched out a 6-5 win against the East Texas favorite in 4A at Texas A&M-Commerce's John Cain Family Softball Field.
"They wanted the one-game series," head coach Blake Worley said. "I asked my girls, 'What do you want? I'll back you 100 percent.' They said they wanted a one game. They felt they could take it in one game. They came out here and proved why we should have done that."
Truth be told, the Lady Hawks (15-6) looked like they had been deep in the playoffs before. The fact was they had not. Van knocked out the school's best teams in area-round meetings.
Pleasant Grove managed to hold a lead from the bottom of the second inning onward. The lead changed four times through the first four half innings, Van (27-3) building separate leads with the aid of two costly Lady Hawks infield errors.
Senior center fielder Aubrey Ashby gave the group a third chance at life with a three-run homer to left field in the bottom of the second. The unit responded with nearly flawless defense the rest of the way and only surrendered one more run.
"This is the farthest I've gone in any sport," Ashby said. "It is the best feeling. I can't even put it into words."
Van had its chances late.
Senior center fielder Hallee Carter cut the deficit to 6-5 in the top of the fourth with a run from second base. She took off on a ground ball bobbled by Pleasant Grove's second baseman, but the Lady Hawks recovered for the out at first to save an error on the play.
The Lady Vandals stranded the tying run at second base to end the game. The runner, losing starting pitcher Sierra Nichols, got on after Pleasant Grove left fielder Khadijah Oritola robbed Kylee Moore's extra bases hit with a leap up against the fence for the first out of the inning.
In between, Lady Hawks pitcher Madison Haltom helped retire Van's fifth and sixth inning sides in order. She earned one of two strikeouts in the game during that span and took the win with 102 pitches.
Haltom was the losing pitcher in both prior playoff meetings against the Lady Vandals. Van won those match ups in two-game sweeps.
"They are such good hitters," Haltom said. "Their defense is good, too. They don't have any weaknesses in their whole lineup, and they can hit. I don't know. I just felt good about it today. I knew that we could come in and get the win. This is the best I've ever felt after a win."
It only took Van three pitches to potentially deflate the Lady Hawks.
Carter took the game's first pitch up the middle gap, advanced all the way to third base on Devri Cotton's sacrifice bunt and got home with a hit from Moore.
Nichols played into a fielder's choice but reached first base safely on pitch No. 5. Nichols' courtesy runner, Alex Walton, stole second base and reached third on a throwing error. Morgan Benge batted in Walton with an infield hit for a 2-0 game.
Pleasant Grove exited the first with a 3-2 lead, however.
Two-hole hitter Kimmie Atienza reached base, stole second and was knocked in by a Brette Wacha hit. Cleanup hitter Faith Lipham then homered to left-center field.
Seven Van batters went to the plate in the second inning.
Cotton batted in Rustie Spinks, who reached on the Lady Hawks second error, and Carter with a ball that spun toward Pleasant Grove's second baseman and hooked away at the last second.
Ashby responded with the three-run bomb in the bottom second. Kaylee Jones and Mary Kathryn Kyle preceded her in the victory jog by with a hit-by-pitch and liner along the left field line, respectively.
Spinks went into the circle in relief following Ashby's smash and threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings. Nichols replaced Spinks at second base.
Carter led the Lady Vandals with a 2-for-3 night at the plate, a walk and three runs scored in her final high school game.
Pleasant Grove awaits the winner of a three-game series between Sanger and Gainesville in the regional semifinal round. Sanger won Game 1 of its set Thursday, 10-0.
"We're making history this year," Worley said. "We've been building this program. It was nothing about six years ago. We've never made it past the area round before this year and had never even won an area round game. For us to win the quarterfinals today is just unbelievable.
"And against a team like Van that's so talented. From this point forward, it's just milestone after milestone for us."
Pleasant Grove 6, No. 4 Van 5
Class 4A Regional Quarterfinal Playoff
At John Cain Family Softball Field, Commerce
Van 220 100 0 -- 5 4 1
Pleasant Grove 330 000 X -- 6 5 2
Pitchers and catchers
- Van: Sierra Nichols, Rustie Spinks (2) and Morgan Benge
- Pleasant Grove: Madison Haltom and Brette Wacha
WP -- Haltom
LP -- Nichols
- Van: Hallee Carter
- Pleasant Grove: Aubrey Ashby, Faith Lipham