The Cleburne Lady Jackets improved to 4-3 with a wild and hard-fought 15-13 victory Monday night over Benbrook.
Offensively, Cleburne could do no wrong early on as the Lady Jackets recorded 11 hits and 10 runs in the first three innings for a commanding 10-2 lead.
Even though Cleburne appeared headed towards a potential run-rule victory, Benbrook erased that thought quickly as the Lady Cats put up an eight-run fourth inning to tie the game at 10.
Rather than let things snowball after blowing an eight-run lead, the Lady Jackets bounced back strong the rest of the way, and Cleburne Coach Paul Chavez said he was “very proud” of how the team responded after giving up eight runs.
“When we got in the huddle [after the top of the fourth], the thing that I tried to stress was there was no reason to panic,” Chavez said. “We have plenty of innings left, we just have to stay focused and keep doing our job, and if we do that we’re going to be OK. Those girls didn’t give up, they didn’t panic, they stayed focused. We knew we had to have a good win. It was a hard-fought one and it wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it. They were pretty excited about it.”
After Benbrook tied it, the Lady Jackets instantly responded in the home half of the fourth with two runs on RBI singles from Hailie Cochran and Hanna Roye for a 12-10 advantage. In the top of the fifth, Benbrook pushed across another run to pull to within 12-11, but the Lady Jackets got that run back, plus one more, on RBIs from Cochran and Meagan Cumnock for a 14-11 advantage.
After a 1-2-3 top of the sixth, highlighted by a line-drive double play started by third baseman Avery Tapia, the Lady Jackets got an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on a pair of Benbrook errors for a 15-11 lead.
As the Lady Cats proved all game, they wouldn’t go away quietly in the top of the seventh. Benbrook got a leadoff walk that came around to score two batters later on a dropped third strike. Then Devin Dunn hit an RBI double to pull the Lady Cats to within 15-13.
Benbrook loaded the bases on a hit-by-pitch and walk, putting the game-tying runs in scoring position. Chavez brought starting pitcher/flex Taylor Byram back into the game to face Benbrook’s clean-up hitter, Myranda Villanueva, and Byram got the strikeout to leave the bases loaded, earn the save and secure a hard-fought win for the Lady Jackets.
Chavez said bringing Byram back in to try and close it out was an opportunity at a learning experience.
“... That was an ideal situation to learn from for her,” Chavez said. “For her to go out and do what she did was a huge confidence boost for her. I’m hoping we can carry that on to the next games and district. We’re working on situations with pitchers and trying to get them conditioned for district. We’ve been willing to make sacrifices to get these pitchers ready for district. That was an ideal situation for her to come in with the loaded bases needing one out for her to close it. It worked out for us.”
Byram not only earned the save, but she was also credited with the pitching win after she struck out five with six hits, seven runs and two walks allowed in 3 2/3 innings. Madison Sepulveda pitched 2 2/3 innings while Roye also recorded two outs from the circle in the seventh inning before Byram re-entered to close it out.
Not only was there plenty of movement in the circle for Cleburne, but due to injuries and the pitching moves, Chavez had to make lineup changes across the entire field in Monday’s win.
“What I’m most proud of is we had two catchers, two left fielders, three center fielders, two second basemen, two shortstops and three, basically four, pitchers, that we had to move around,” Chavez said. “We’d been talking to the girls about being multi-position players because of the situation we’re in. This is not select ball so we can’t pick out the best players at each position. To have these girls working hard at other positions and other skills, it paid off Monday night. They all realized that. I think everybody saw the hard work they put in and how they were able to utilize everything. That spoke a lot to the girls. I was very impressed with it and I’m very happy for them.”
Autumn Bias led Cleburne’s big night at the plate as the Lady Jackets pounded out 16 base hits. Bias posted a 3-for-4 effort that included five RBIs and three runs with a walk, including a two-run inside-the-park home run in the second inning. Bias also had a two-run double in the third inning; she finished a triple shy of the cycle.
Roye went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored while Tatum Cantu was 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Tapia finished 2-for-4 with an RBI, walk and run. Mercedes Avila, a sophomore who was moved up from JV for Monday's game, went 2-for-2 with a run and a walk to go along with solid defensive play in the outfield. And Cochran finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs and three runs.
“It was good that they were taking good cuts and making good contact,” Chavez said. “It was good for the whole team to pull out a win like that and get that confidence of swinging the bat. We’ve faced some pretty good pitchers the last couple games. This pitcher threw strikes and we were able to make solid contact and get good swings off of her. It was a good confidence booster for us all the way around, not only just for the varsity but JV1 and JV2 to pull out wins. I’m proud of Coach Rikki Taylor, Coach Mallory Dunlap and Coach Greg Funderburke, who have all worked very hard with the players. It was a great team effort Monday night and the past week.”
Along with Alvarado and Grandview, the Lady Jackets are scheduled to co-host the Johnson County Clash beginning Thursday. Depending on rain, the tournament schedule may be altered, but Cleburne is originally scheduled to host Maypearl at 9 a.m. and Fort Worth Arlington Heights at 1 p.m. Thursday in pool play.