LUBBOCK – The Fort Stockton High School Prowlers softball team won two must-win games Saturday to claimed a 4A Region 1 Area Championship by taking its best-of-three playoff series against the Pampa Lady Harvesters two games to one.
The Prowlers next face Levelland Lobos in the 4A Region 1 quarterfinals. Game 1 is 6:30 p.m. Friday at Andrews High School. Game 2 is 1 p.m. Saturday and, of needed, Game 3 will start 30 minutes after Game 2.
The Lobos defeated Greenwood in its area title game. Levelland was the runnerup in 4A District 2. During the non-district schedule, Pampa lost to Levelland 4-3 on March 10.
That the Prowlers advanced was a testimony to the grittiness and team-oriented spirit that has marked their entire season.
In Game 1 Friday, Fort Stockton blew a 3-2 lead by giving up six runs in the fifth inning en route to an 8-5 loss.
Pampa stormed out of the gate Saturday in Game 2, sending 10 batters to the plate and scoring five runs in the top of the first inning – including two homeruns – against starting pitcher Heliana Bueno.
The Prowlers score once in the bottom of the inning to trail 5-1.
Desiree Blanco entered the game in relief to start the second inning. She gave up a solo homerun, but also got out of the inning facing just four batters.
Blanco played a pivotal role in the game, as coach Christa Carrasco was trying to save her workhorse starter Mariah Bueno for the deciding Game 3.
Blanco and the Prowler defense retired the Harvester lineup in order in both the third and fourth innings. Only one ball made it out of the infield – a foul ball down the left field line on which Anahi Renteria made a sensational running catch for the out.
Fort Stockton seized on the two scoreless frames to take the lead for good.
Blanco hit a two-run homerun in the bottom of the third as the Prowlers closed to 6-5.
Then in the fourth, the Prowlers scored three times by sandwiching two walks between doubles by Raquelle Bernal and Heliana Bueno, to take an 8-6 lead.
The shell-shocked Harvesters scored once in the fifth to pull to 8-7, and then loaded the bases with two outs. But Blanco was able to include a flyout to shortstop to get out of the inning without further damage.
The Prowlers responded with three more runs in the bottom of the fifth, capitalizing on a passed ball and an error to push two runs across.
Trailing 11-7 in the sixth, Pampa put two runners on with one out with Natalie Winborne – who had already hit two homeruns and intentionally walked once – coming to the plate.
Carrasco opted against the intentional walk, and Blanco responded by getting the slugger to weakly lineout to shortstop for the second out of the inning. A grounder to Mary Villareal at third base ended the inning with the throw to first base.
Blanco started the seventh inning, but gave way to Mariah Bueno with after giving up a single and a walk. Bueno induced a fielder’s choice grounder for the first out. She gave up a double that scored a runner before recording the final two outs of the 11-8 win and forcing the deciding Game 3.
• GAME 3
Much like Game 2, Game 3 started off with offensive fireworks. Pampa scored twice off Mariah Bueno in the first inning. Unlike Game 2, it was three seeing-eye singles and not homeruns that did the damage.
The Prowlers retook the lead, 3-2, in the bottom of the first taking advantage of a popup that dropped between the pitcher and shortstop to keep the inning alive.
Pampa answered in the second with three runs on three singles and an error to go up 5-3. But Fort Stockton again answered by tying the game in the bottom of the second on a single and pair of errors.
Bueno cruised through the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings without giving up a run and facing no more than four batters in any of the innings.
She was aided by some stellar defense. In the top of the fifth with two outs and a runner on first, Shelbie O’Gorman’s apparent single to right field became a 9-3 out in the scorebook as right fielder Rebecca Rodriguez charged the ball and threw O’Gorman out by two steps at first base for the final out of the inning.
As Pampa was struggling to put crooked numbers on the scoreboard, the Prowlers scored in every inning. Blanco – who hit two homeruns all season – hit her second of the day in the third to put her team up 6-5.
In the fourth, Heliana Bueno crushed a two-run homerun over the 10-foot high wall 200-feet to straightway center to put the Prowlers up 8-5.
The Prowlers officially added two more runs in the fifth on a single and a pair of errors. It would’ve been three, but a controversial fair-ball call down the left-field line became a foul ball as the home plate umpire determined that the third base umpire had first called the ball foul before calling it fair.
The irony was the play was not interrupted until after the fact, with a third run in and batter on Anahi Renteria at third. Adding injury to the insult, Renteria had to exit the game with a leg injury suffered while sliding into third on the non-play. Krystal Porras had to enter the game and complete Renteria’s at bat.
The Prowlers added one more the sixth to take an 11-5 lead into the seventh. A two-out double plated one run for Pampa, but Bueno emphatically struck out the final batter to seasl the win.
We will have more on the series and a preview of the Levelland game in our Thursday, May 10 edition.