By Alexander Haynes
The Texas State softball team is composed of players not only renowned for individual efforts, but the tone in which they play together. The series sweep of the South Alabama Jaguars was a team series. Each player stood out for their own marked stats, but delineating those would be a disservice to the team organization head coach Ricci Woodard has built. The sweep was a story of phenomenal pitching, 13-inning softball, pure defense, batting support, and a verbose comeback. The 29-8 Bobcats (11-0 in conference) are now heading to Louisiana next weekend to play the Sun Belt’s second place team Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. If this sweep was any representation of the team’s play down the stretch, the Bobcats could be taking sole control of their destiny by next weekend.
Thirteen Innings and 21 Strikeouts
Winning a 13-inning game is as essential for morale as the W in the win column becomes. Going the length of 13 innings then dropping the game is conditional of that which could be– opportunity wasted and heartbreak. Despite the batting lineup for both South Alabama and Texas State being obtusely silent on the day, it was Randi Rupp who, by lasting all 13 innings, striking out 21 batters, walking only two, and providing only five hits, set the tone. Her again-resilient pitching set the table for Tara Oltmann’s walk-off double.
The game was a battle of attrition. South Alabama batters were consistently swinging and missing while Texas State made contact only to get put out on pop-flies and ground outs. In fact, the first Bobcat hit came courtesy from Mari Cranek bunting in the third. The second hit would not arrive until the seventh.
The dying ground outs were the main story of the afternoon as Jaguars pitcher Devin Brown maintained an assertive position throughout the game. She never was aiming for strikeouts, only attaining six, thus willing to give up more pitches for putouts. The risk with that method in softball, however, is the onus put on the defense to stay error-free. Cranek managed to single on another bunt in the 10th inning, embellishing a shaky Jaguars in-field. She eventually stole to third with only one out, but Brown pushed the envelope once again with frustrating targeting.
The bottom of the 13th was pure heartbreak for the Jaguars. A line drive out and fly out capped off the first two batters, but it was Hailey MacKay who began the chaos after getting walked. She quickly stole second as Ariel Ortiz took a nine-pitch battle for walk. Oltmann retired Brown and the game on a no-doubt double, scoring pinch runner Meagan King.
Double Header Sweep
Mere hours after scoring the winning run, King would take the mound to receive the start in a game between two exhausted teams. The 13 innings had taken both an emotional and physical hit for both teams. No matter, the Bobcats found their bounce in team effort.
Although the first inning was futile, Christina McDowell’s opening walk and MacKay’s subsequent single were important for putting the Bobcats on edge. Kennedy Cline carried the tone in the third inning with an opening single, then wound her way to third on a wild pitch. Cranek would also walk and steal.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, the Jaguars were on point as Cline was put out at home after another in-field blunder provided an opening, this time too good to be true. The damage to pitcher Alex Reid was done, however, as MacKay singled once again, resulting in Jaclyn Molenaar and Cranek scoring for the 2-0 lead.
Cline and Cranek continued piling onto their highlight reel with a double and triple respectively. Cranek’s triple scored Cline, with Molenaar netting an in-field sacrifice hit to score Cranek. Those four runs would be all the Bobcats needed to close the 4-1 victory.
King may have been assisted by a tired and defeated Jaguars batting lineup, but another impressive outing from her is a booming point for the team. Most importantly, she avoided any clinical mistakes in wild pitches or errors. In all seven innings and 82 pitches, she allowed only two hits and one run on four strikeouts and two walks. By pitching to alleviate dangerous ball placement, King is evidently becoming more confident, impressive, and intelligent in her game approach.
Home Runs to Finish the Weekend
Receiving the starting attention on Sunday afternoon, Rupp had a chance to extend the Bobcats’ winning streak, remaining perfect in Sun Belt play. While Rupp may not have known this (realistically, nor should she), a win over the Jaguars would put the Bobcats squarely three games over second place Louisiana, whom the team will play next weekend. Sunday would be a defining game.
Initially, the Jaguars were taking long swings, clearly aiming for the mentally defeating deep ball. Kristian Foster was the first to capitalize by slamming a home run in the first inning. The second inning was more trouble for Rupp, very likely exhausted after battling through an excruciating amount of pitches the day before. The Jaguars had seen everything Rupp could offer in her 182 routine, a telling sign from the repetition of hits coming. After the Jaguars established a 3-0 lead, King came into alleviate Rupp for the last two outs.
In the bottom of the second, Oltmann would close the score on a two-run home run– a team rallying type of home run. While that run would not be capitalized upon until later, the defense would play astutely. The remaining runs for the Jaguars were scored off two home runs in the fifth inning, standing out as two odd notes in another precise-pitching game for King.
The sixth inning was epitomized by urgency for the Bobcats. Something would have to give for the 5-2 deficit to be overcome. ArieAnn Bell striking out was not a highlight, but her at bat was essential for the drama to ensue. Bell took the Jaguars 11 pitches to strike her out, setting the tempo for Brianna Sannem to double off her first pitch, scoring Oltmann. The momentum only continued as Cranek singling on a bunt in her first pitch was enough to force a pitching and momentum change.
The bases loaded disaster continued for the Jaguars. Molennar and McDowell were walked back-to-back, tying the game at five. MacKay received the go ahead to send a sacrifice fly to score the icing run; however, not only did she score the icing run, but the Jaguars defense began committing errors at this point. By the end of the chaos, Oltmann came back around in the same inning to net the final RBI, putting the Bobcats up 9-5.
If the comeback was not enough, Rupp came in during the top of the seventh to leave no doubt in her arm, striking out the last batter.
Featured image by Marina Bustillo-Mendoza.