The Clear Springs Chargers battled, but fell just short in their best-of-three Region III-6A championship softball series against the Deer Park Lady Deer at Shadow Creek High School.
Following a rough 9-1 loss in Game 1 on Friday, Clear Springs bounced back with a 4-2 win Saturday in Game 2 to force the deciding doubleheader Game 3, which Deer Park won 3-1 to advance to the state tournament in Austin next week.
“They did what they’ve done all year — they fought, they worked hard, they believed in each other,” Clear Springs head softball coach Jennifer Knight said about her team. “We fought to the very last out against a very good Deer Park team.”
It's the fifth state tournament appearance for the Lady Deer.
The Chargers finish their season with an impressive 31-2 overall record, and were 30-0 heading into the regional finals.
Clear Springs graduates two starters from the team — albeit two key starters in shortstop Demi Elder and catcher Kelly Baker, with Faith Hadley and Lilly Hardy rounding out the class of 2021.
“The future is bright, but those seniors left it all on the field for us, and we’re going to miss them,” Knight said. “The underclassmen have big shoes to feel. These seniors, I honestly cannot say enough about them. They have worked every day and given everything, and they made it almost to the very end. I could not be more proud of them.”
For the Clear Springs players returning, Knight hopes experiencing the playoff intensity of a regional final will further fortify a squad that this season advanced three rounds deeper than any other club in the softball program’s history.
“I think it’ll be a big motivator,” Knight said. “We’re losing two starters, but everyone else on that field is coming back. Let’s make another run next year.”
The series deciding runs for Deer Park were plated in the bottom of the fourth inning, with a clutch RBI single shot into center field by Emma Overla providing the go-ahead score. A fielding error allowed another run to score on what would’ve been an inning-ending pop-up to give the Lady Deer a two-run cushion.
Erin Perez led off the bottom of the fourth with a single to right, and courtesy runner Kayla Zaid stole second base, advanced to third on a grounder, and scored on Overla’s single. Overla wheeled from first to third on a bloop single to center from Bryanna Fuentes before scoring on the error.
Deer Park drew first blood in the bottom of the first on an RBI single lined to center by Addison Lehew driving in Fuentes, who scored from second base after reaching on an error and advancing on a groundout.
Clear Springs’ lone run in the game came in the top of the second on an RBI double smacked to deep left field by Ashley Walker scoring courtesy runner Grace Lee, who came in after Kelly Baker’s leadoff walk.
Game 1 starting pitcher Hannah Benavides returned for Game 3, and had another strong outing (seven innings, three hits, one earned run, three walks, six strikeouts) to pick up the complete-game win in the circle.
Perez (2-for-3) had a multi-hit game for the Lady Deer.
Clear Springs answered a two-run top of the third with a three-run bottom half of the frame, and tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth to secure the victory and extend the regional final series.
After two fielding errors allowed two Lady Deer runs to score in the top of the third, the Chargers overcame their mistakes courtesy of an RBI single clipped to right field by Baker and a two-out, two-run single lined to center by Walker.
Back-to-back one-out walks draw by Claire Pollack and Emma Strood set the table for the run-scoring knocks.
In the bottom of the sixth, Emma King reached base on a one-out walk, stole second base, and raced home on an RBI single dropped into left-center by Baker.
Strood (seven innings, five hits, two unearned runs, three walks, four strikeouts) tallied the complete-game win in the circle for the Chargers.
A lineup shakeup proved effective for Clear Springs, as Pollack was moved up to the No. 3 spot and reached base on all four her at-bats via walks, and Walker, sliding down to No. 7, had the game’s key hit and reached on all three of her plate appearances.
Baker finished 3-for-4 at the plate for the sole multi-hit performance on either side.