AUSTIN -- Pleasant Grove made its first ever state softball tournament appearance Thursday. It forced a more established Needville program sweat to the end.

After four lead changes, the Lady Hawks' breakout 2015 season came to an end Thursday with a 9-6 loss in the Class 4A state semifinals at the University of Texas' Red and Charline McCombs Field. 

"The whole thing about this whole team is resiliency," head coach Blake Worley said. "They just keep fighting and never quit. They have the heart of a lion and they showed it today. They kept themselves in the game. For them to be here and be able to experience this for the first time, and losing two seniors with a big class coming in, it really sets us up well for next year.

"If we're blessed enough to make it here again next year, then we'll at least have the experience rolling into here."

Madison Haltom allowed eight hits against a Needville batting lineup with three players batting above .400 and two more above .500 (Thao Nguyen, ETSN.fm)

Needville (33-7) presented a nightmare lineup for pitcher Madison Haltom, but things went extraordinarily well through three innings.

Pleasant Grove (18-7) built up a 4-1 lead and caught a series of breaks in its defensive frames.

Yet Needville, which had three players with batting averages above .400 and another two above. 500, could not be held back forever. It erupted for four runs in the bottom third, as the order got a second crack at Haltom.

The Lady Hawks bounced back with solo runs in the fourth and fifth innings for a 6-5 lead. Needville took final control thanks to a three-run bottom fifth and added a final run in the sixth.

Each defensive inning got longer for Pleasant Grove. Getting outs turned to pulling teeth. Committing four errors during the course of the game certainly did not help matters.

"It was tough, too, the umpire's zone," Worley said. "He did a great job behind the plate, but he really didn't like the drop ball very much and that's kind of our pitcher's go-to pitch. It's tough to be able to adjust to those things.

"I've got to hand it to Needville. They did a great job and kept fighting, too. We knew that was the kind of effort that we were going to get this deep into the playoffs. Especially in the state tournament. But, nonetheless, we made some defensive mistakes here and there that ended up costing runs. We knew we had to play error free."

Carley Barrett (3) slides into home plate before Needville catcher Megan Crosby (8) can apply the tag. Barrett scored in the third inning with Madison Haltom's suicide squeeze bunt. (Thao Nguyen, ETSN.fm)

Needville also committed four errors during the game.

Aubrey Ashby and Kimmie Atienza boarded the bases in the top of the first with a walk and error on a sacrifice bunt, respectively. Two outs later, power bat Khadijah Oritola sent them home with a double off the center field wall.

Needville got one back in the bottom first. Kylie Matula walked and escaped home on two defensive errors on the next at-bat.

The bottom of the Pleasant Grove lineup got into the mix as well before Needville came up with some defensive stands.

Oritola walked with one out in the top third and Carley Barrett stretched a single to second base the next at-bat with a hit and Needville's throw into its own dugout. Unfortunately, Oritola sustained a mouth injury on the play and had to temporarily leave the game to stop the bleeding.

From there, seven-hole hitter Kaylee Jones slapped a pitch through the left infield gap to plate Oritola's curtesy runner, freshman Elizabeth Robles. Haltom scored Barrett from third with a suicide squeeze, which caused Needville to replace starting pitcher Victoria Moreno with Micayla Orsak.

Needville began turning the tide immediately afterward.

Mari Cranek, who entered the tournament with a .534 batting average and ran into her own bunt attempt for an automatic out in the first inning, began the comeback with a double after the bottom two hitters reached on a hit off of Haltom and a perfect sacrifice bunt.

Kylie Matula, batting .521 in the second-hole spot, then hit a 2 RBI triple. Kaedra Fiebrich, batting a relatively meager .382 for Needville, closed scoring by playing into a fielder's choice with runners at the corners later in the frame.

Faith Lipham got Pleasant Grove even, 5-5, in the top fourth on a base hit and Atienza standing on third base.

Pleasant Grove will return all but two players from its 2015 state semifinals team. (Thao Nguyen, ETSN.fm)

The Lady Hawks took their 6-5 lead the next inning with Atienza's bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

But in the bottom fifth, Noelle Hein hit a 3 RBI triple. It proved to be the game-winning at-bat.

There was a huge difference in games played between Needville and the Lady Hawks. With rain in East Texas, three early season tournaments were completely wiped off Pleasant Grove's schedule.

The Lady Hawks didn't even win District 15-4A. They came in third behind Atlanta and league champion Paris North Lamar.

Stars aligned to make the run to the state semifinal possible. Pleasant Grove won its final four regional playoff games by one run, including two single-game playoff victories. One of which came against last year's Region II champion, Van.

Aubrey Ashby's decorated high school career came to a close with the loss. She also helped guide the Lady Hawks volleyball and basketball teams to regional levels of playoff competition during her senior year. She holds one volleyball scholarship offer.

Ashby went 1-for-4 and added that leadoff walk.

First baseman Mary Kathryn Kyle also participated in her final game. She batted 1-for-2 with a walk and sacrifice bunt.

Other than that, Pleasant Grove will return its state semifinal roster in 2016.

"It's more or less to be proud of what you did," Worley said when asked about what he told his team after the game. "Use this as a learning experience for those that will be able to return. For the seniors, Aubrey Ashby and Mary Kathryn Kyle, they have memories that will last forever. There's so many people that don't even get the opportunity to be here.

"We were in the final four in 4A in the State of Texas. That's something to be proud of."

Kimmie Atienza (7) slides into second base. Needville shortstop Mari Cranek (2) was late with the tag after a defensive error in the first inning. (Thao Nguyen, ETSN.fm)

Class 4A State Semifinals

At Red and Charline McCombs Field, Austin
Needville 9, Pleasant Grove 6

Pleasant Grove            202    110   0    --    6    7    4
Needville                     104    031  X    --    9    8    4

Pitchers and catchers
  • Pleasant Grove: Madison Haltom and Brette Wacha
  • Needville: Victoria Moreno, Micayla Orsak (3) and Megan Crosby

 

  • WP -- Orsak
  • LP --Haltom
Doubles
  • Pleasant Grove: Khadijah Oritola
  • Needville: Mari Cranek
Triples
  • Needville: Kaedra Fiebrich, Kylie Matula