Sydney Hancock, Hermleigh’s leadoff hitter, was 1-for-9 at the plate in the playoffs this season going into Thursday’s Region I-1A finals series opener against Eula at Cooper’s Cougar Diamond.
She was 0-for-4 against the Lady Pirates when she came up with runners at second and third and two outs in the bottom of the seventh in a 6-6 game. It was a big spot for a girl who was 1-for-13 in the postseason thus far.
“I was nervous. I was so scared,” Hancock said. “But I knew my team was behind me. If we had to go another inning, we’d get three outs and hit again. Somebody would step up.”
That somebody was Hancock – and there would be no extra innings.
The sophomore hit a walk-off double to lift the Lady Cardinals to a 7-6 victory.
“It was a big moment for me,” Hancock said. “Practice has been rough. I haven’t been hitting the ball. For that to happen and score a run was really special me and the team.”
It was a big moment for Hermleigh coach Sammy Winters, too.
“Sydney, she’s been a really good hitter for us for most of the season,” Winters said. “Here in the last couple of series, she’s gone into a slump. She’s our leadoff hitter, and I’ve left her there. I believe in her. I know she can do it. Eventually she’s going hit her way out of it, and hopefully that’s the spark that does it.”
Hancock’s game-winning hit came after Eula had rallied for three runs in the sixth to tie the game at 6. The Lady Pirates had a runner thrown out at home in the inning for the first out and left the bases loaded when Hermleigh finally got the final out after nine Eula players went to the plate.
Game 2 of the series will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Cougar Diamond. A third and deciding game will be played 30 minutes afterward, if needed.
Eula coach Jayton Thompson, whose team outlasted Aspermont for a 4-3 win in 12 innings in Game 2 last week to sweep the region semifinal series, was buoyed by the fact her team battled back to tie the game Thursday.
“They could have put their heads down and given up, but they decided in the seventh, ‘Nope, we belong here. We want this bad,’” Thompson said. “They do. They want it, and I’m confident they’ll show up Saturday and take care of business.”
Hermleigh pitcher Summer Smith got the win, allowing six runs on eight hits. He struck out five and walked seven, two intentionally. McKenna Oglesby took the loss, giving up seven runs on nine hits. She struck out eight and walked six. Both pitchers went the distance for their teams.
Lady Cards soar early
Hermleigh (14-6) appeared to be cruising to a 1-0 series lead.
Summer Smith doubled and scored on a two-out error in the second inning for a 1-0 lead. Destiney Hopkins added a two-run single in the third for a 3-0 advantage.
Eula (16-7) didn’t get a hit off Smith until Oglesby hit a one-out double in the fourth.
Eula finally broke through with a three-run fifth to tie the game. Layla Fostel led off with walk, and Laney Fostel followed with a single. After CaLece Coats hit a comebacker to the pitcher, pushing the runners to second and third, Hermleigh intentionally walked Avery Meers – loading the bases with one out.
The Lady Cards got the out at third as Layla Fostel scored on Brayli Collins’ fielder’s choice ground ball to short. Laken Bristow walked, reloading the bases. Oglesby tied the game with a two-run single. Madison Stawarcczik singled to right, but Carly Newman – pinch-running for Bristow – was thrown out at home to end the inning.
Still, it was a big lift for Eula and a tough blow for Hermleigh, which had blown two three-run leads.
“That’s obviously not what you want to do,” Winters said. “You don’t want to blow two three-run leads. That goes to show how good Eula is, and it also shows how resilient we are and how tough we are. Just good leadership from our girls. Good job holding their composure.”
Hermleigh answered with three runs of its own in the bottom of the inning for a 6-3 lead. Sarah Murphy reached third on a three-base error, and, after Smith was intentionally walked, Murphy scored on a throwing error on a pickoff attempt at third. Hopkins got her third RBI of the game, a one-out, RBI single in the inning, and she took third on a two-base error as the centerfielder misplayed the ball. Hopkins scored on Reagan Bollinger’s comebacker to the pitcher.
Eula was down to its last three outs, when Coats reached on an error to start the seventh. Meers then beat out an infield single, and Collins walked – loading the bases. Coats scored on Bristow’s ground ball to third.
It appeared Hermleigh had gotten the force at home, but the catcher didn’t touch home. Oglesby, who was 3-for-3 on the night, made it one-run game with an RBI single. Collins was thrown out at home on Stawarcczik’s ground ball to second.
It looked like Hermleigh would win the game 6-5 when Smith got a strikeout to move within an out of the victory. But Layla Fostel coaxed a bases-loaded walk, tying the game at 6.
Hancock's big finish
That set the stage for Hancock’s big hit.
Hopkins led off with a walk, but Oglesby got a pop to short and a strikeout to put Eula on the verge of forcing extra innings. Lexi Greenwood kept the inning alive with a single, and she took second on the throw to third. Hancock then stroked a 3-2 pitch into the gap in left center, chasing Hopkins home with the game-winning run.
It took a while before the Hermleigh players realized the game was over – and the Lady Cards had won. Even Hancock didn’t know she had just dealt the game-winning hit.
“I was looking at Winters, and I was like, ‘Do you want me to go three?’” Hancock said, referring to taking third. “Then I saw all the girls running to come hug me. That made my day.”
Before the hit, Hancock’s only hit of the postseason was an RBI double in the second inning for a 3-0 lead against Vernon Northside in Game 2 of the region semifinal series last week in Weatherford. Hermleigh won 4-3 to sweep the series.
Now Hermleigh, which lost to eventual region champion Borden County in the region semifinals last year, is a win away from its second state tournament berth. The Lady Cards went 20-0 in 2017 before losing to Slocum in the state title game.
“Man, it’s a good feeling,” Winters said about being on the precipice of a state berth. “We are very blessed that we’re in this position. We just want to take care of business. You don’t want to talk too much about it. We’re excited for the opportunity, but we’ve still got to go do it.”
Eula, which lost to Borden County in the region final last year, must win twice on Saturday to earn its fourth state tournament appearance and first since 2008. The Lady Pirates won a state title 2006.
Joey D. Richards covers Abilene high schools and colleges, Big Country schools and other local sports. Follow him at Twitter at ARN_Joey. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Hermleigh edges Eula in Game 1 of Region I-1A softball finals