by A.C. Hall
Anyone who attended the three game playoff series between the Lady Bears and the Lady Hawks of Birdville witnessed high school softball at its highest level as these two powerhouse teams pushed each other to the limit. After three grueling games, it was the Lady Bears who came out on top, claiming the title of bi-district champions and moving on to round two of the playoffs.
Head Coach Vera Ortega is in her first year leading the Lady Bears, but she wasn’t surprised at the success her team had in round one, saying they’ve worked towards this all year.
“This team has worked very hard to get where we are, and I am very proud of how they compete and how we fight every time we step on the field,” Ortega told The Grizzly Detail after their round one victory.
Fight is a good word for the series with Birdville, as things were tense from the start. Game one was held in Birdville on Thursday, and instead of starting her senior star pitcher Sarah Miller, Ortega decided to send sophomore Bailey Turner to the mound. Turner got into trouble early in the first inning, retiring just one batter before two base hits gave Birdville a 1 – 0 lead in the game. It was at this point that Ortega pulled Turner, putting Miller on the mound just one out into the game.
“In a best two out of three game series, you want to try to get some innings out of all of your pitchers,” Ortega said. “Bailey is an extremely talented pitcher and has done a great job for us this year. The goal was to get some innings out of her in case the series went to three games, and to let her get some experience.”
That plan changed once Birdville came out hitting against Turner, and Ortega said that the choice to swap pitchers so quickly was done to disrupt the offensive momentum that Birdville was building up.
With Miller on the mound, the series turned into a defensive duel between the teams. Miller shut down the Birdville offense, but the Brewer offense also found themselves unable to show any of the hitting power that became a trademark for them this season. It wasn’t until the bottom of the sixth inning that either team found another scoring opportunity.
A fielding error allowed a Birdville base runner, then a walk and two stolen bases had the Lady Bears in trouble. With runners on second and third with only one out, Miller got a key strikeout followed by a groundout to keep the score at Birdville 1, Brewer 0 heading into the final inning.
Brewer came to the plate in the top of the seventh needing a run, and using some smart base running that’s exactly what they got. Shannon Rhodes was hit by a pitch, and then promptly stole second base. When the throw to get her out sailed into the outfield, Rhodes took third as well. This put her in perfect position to be knocked in, with Jordan Kisselburg getting the RBI with a single. This tied the game at 1 – 1.
The Birdville hitters struggled to get solid hits against Miller all night, and once again in the bottom of the seventh this was the case. With one runner on, Birdville got a bloop hit down the first base line. The ball landed in an inopportune spot for the Brewer fielders, giving the Birdville runner time to sprint around the bases and score the winning run. This gave the Lady Hawks a 1 game lead in the series.
Back at Brewer on Friday night for a must win game 2, Miller got the start on the mound. Through two innings, neither team found much success. A pair of errors gave Birdville an early 1 – 0 lead, but Brewer tied it up later that inning after hits from Shawna Terry and Kayla Chavarria.
The bottom of the fourth inning turned into a bizarre one for the Lady Bears as they found a way to score without actually getting a hit. An error and a walk put two runners on base. When the next hitter hit into what appeared to be a routine ground out, a dropped ball by the first baseman signaled the Brewer runners to try to score. One came across easily, but the second triggered a close play at the plate. Fortunately for the Lady Bears, that throw was also dropped, giving them 2 runs and extending their lead to 3 – 1.
That score would hold as Miller again stifled the Birdville offense, giving Brewer the win and tying the series at one game a piece.
The final game was again held at Brewer High School, and for the third day in a row Miller found herself on the mound with the weight of the season on her shoulders. However, it was her performance at the plate in the first inning that had fans scratching their heads.
With one runner on in the bottom of the first, Miller smashed a pitch and sent it flying over the right field fence. Beginning her triumphant trot around the bases, Miller was unaware that the ball had bounced back into play. What appeared to be a home run from the stands was ruled to have hit the top of the fence instead, causing Miller to be tagged out between second and third base. One run did score for Brewer on the play, but the bizarre turn of events put an end to the inning.
Miller was unfazed by the ruling as she returned to the mound, looking fresh even while pitching in her third straight game. She continued to dominate the Birdville hitters. But after shutting them down for two and a half games, the Lady Hawks finally got a good swing in on Miller in the top of the fourth inning. With one runner on base, Birdville sent a pitch sailing over the center field wall, taking a 2 – 1 lead.
They weren’t the only ones to finally find their offense, as later that inning the Brewer bats finally woke up. After a dominating season in which they hit 26 home runs, it took two and a half games before the Lady Bears hitters looked like their regular season selves.
“We were facing a good pitcher, so making adjustments at the plate is a must,” Ortega said. “We finally made the adjustments and got back into our offensive mode.”
Brewer opened up the bottom of the fourth with three straight singles from Miller, Kisselburg, and Ashlynn Williams. Mykayla Stroud brought home 2 of them with a 2 rbi single, putting the Lady Bears back in the lead by a score of 3 – 2.
The offense was back at it in the next inning, with Rhodes and Miller getting hits before both being brought home by the 2 rbi double of Kisselburg. That gave the Lady Bears a commanding 5 – 2 lead that they would not relinquish.
The victory in game three gave them the series win at 2 games to 1, making the Lady Bears the bi-district champions and sending them on to round two of the playoffs.
With the next round looming large, Coach Ortega said it will be business as usual for the team as they prepare.
“We continue to do what we have been doing, working hard at practice, staying focused, taking it one game at a time, and most important, continue to believe,” Ortega said.
Ortega clearly expects success from the team, but no matter what the outcome is in round two it’s obvious she’s proud of what they’ve accomplished this season.
“This team is a great team, with great senior leadership and is a team that loves to compete,” Ortega said. “When it is all over I want them to say we gave all we had and to say we are proud to be Brewer Bears!”
Round two begins on Thursday night at Brewer High School against the Burleson Lady Elks. First pitch is at 7:00 pm, with game two being held Friday night in Burleson. If a game 3 is necessary, it will be held at Brewer on Saturday at 1:00 pm.