The Savanna Lady Bulldogs ran out every grounder. They sprinted after every pop-fly or foul ball, and they covered every bag on every potential bunt.
The Lady Dawgs just ran into a slightly deeper, slightly stronger softball team in the Dale Lady Pirates.
Dale pitcher Erin Harris pitched a complete-game two-hitter while catcher Lacey Hood hit a key two-run home run, helping the Lady Pirates beat the Lady Dawgs in Saturday’s 2A state championship, 3-2, at the Ball Fields at Firelake in Shawnee.
Savanna starting pitcher Bryn Houlton struggled with the game’s tight strike zone, walking five Dale hitters and looking increasingly frustrated as the game went on. A walk to Harris to start the bottom of the third inning proved especially harmful, as one batter later Hood crushed a pitch over the left-field wall to make it 3-0 Lady Pirates.
“I was just hoping for a strike,” Hood said. She added that because Houlton threw it away so often, Hood waited for an inside pitch and then swung.
Houlton also walked Danielle Manning to lead off the bottom of the first. Houlton erased Manning by getting Harris to ground into a fielder’s choice at second, but Jaelin Flewallen doubled to deep left to score Harris and put Dale up 1-0.
“She made a typical senior mistake,” Savanna coach Angie Wilson said of Houlton.
“As a senior, you think you have to do a little bit more, and you have the whole world on your shoulders out there. I just think she tried to overcompensate for the lack of corners at the plate.”
Houlton pitched her last game for the Lady Dawgs. With her as the team’s ace, Savanna went to back-to-back championship games, made three consecutive trips to the state tournament and won both the Pitt 8 tournament and conference all four years.
Houlton will pitch for the University of Kansas next year. It took Wilson just seconds to define Houlton’s place in Savanna softball history.
“She’s the cream of the crop,” Wilson said. “Best there is.”
Harris, however, is just a 14-year-old freshman, making her game Saturday all the more impressive. Mixing her fastball with a changeup that stayed on the corners of the strike zone and kept Savanna’s hitters always off-balance, she allowed just two hits and three walks in seven innings, striking out 11.
“Her best pitches are her inside fastball and her changeup,” Dale coach Andy Powell said. “She is going to mix it up, and we only threw fastballs and changeups today. We got away from her curveball a couple of weeks ago, and she really mixed it up well.”
Despite Harris’ command, Savanna had chances to score. Its biggest came in the top of the seventh, when Rosiemae Martinez and Jessica Wright led off with walks, then Baleigh Drake sacrificed them to second and third.
Tanna Heddleston then bunted one back towards Harris, and Harris had no choice but to throw to first, allowing Martinez to score and make it 3-2 Dale. Now with two outs in the top of the seventh, Harris struck out Savanna nine-hole hitter Hailey Wilson for the third time, ending the game.
“They didn’t stop fighting,” Wilson said. “There are no regrets.”
Savanna put two baserunners on with two outs in the first but couldn’t score, then Taylor Haynie got thrown out trying to steal third after a one-out double in the third. Jordin Wilson, who went 2-for-2 with a run scored, led off the fourth with a walk, took second on an error and stole third, then came home on an RBI groundout by Wright to make it 3-1 Dale.
The walks by Martinez and Wright were the only two times any of Savanna’s bottom five hitters in the lineup got on base. In 15 combined at-bats, that group struck out 10 times, putting pressure on Savanna’s top four hitters to carry the offensive load.
By comparison, Dale’s bottom five hitters got on base six times in 15 at-bats. Those baserunners never turned into runs, thanks mostly to error-free Savanna defense, but they kept Houlton working the entire time.
“We felt like top to bottom, one through nine, we had the best lineup in 2A, because we don’t have any automatic outs down there,” Powell said. “They battle as much as anybody, and it was the difference in the game.”
With the win, Dale finished its season 38-1. Savanna finished 28-6.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.