Tuesday night was nothing the Plano East softball team hadn’t seen before.
Just four days removed from walking off Allen in eight innings, 11-9, the Lady Panthers conjured some more extra-inning magic to alter their playoff fortunes following a 4-2 victory at Plano Senior.
The win vaults East, winners of three of its past four games, firmly into the playoff conversation with two matchups remaining on its schedule. The Lady Panthers drew even with the Lady Wildcats for third place in District 9-6A at 5-5, a half-game ahead of McKinney Boyd.
“This is where you want to be. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Cindy Mosteller, East head coach. “We hope this momentum can keep carrying us and hopefully into the playoffs.”
Last Friday, it was senior Kaitlyn DeWeese who delivered the walk-off heroics against Allen. Ninety-six hours later, East spread the wealth to the third bottom of its lineup to channel the evening’s most pivotal at-bats in the top of the eighth inning.
With two outs and junior Jordon Manworren on base, freshman Payton Leonard belted an RBI single into center field to nudge the Lady Panthers ahead, 3-2. One batter later, senior Ashley Dart – batting ninth in the lineup – doubled up East’s advantage with an RBI triple to right field.
“That’s something we’ve been practicing – making sure that if we have a runner in scoring position that we need to score,” Mosteller said. “Just move them 60 feet and let’s get them home. We’ve been preaching that and playing really good defense as well.”
Even before the Lady Panthers’ go-ahead eighth inning, timely hitting favored the road team all evening. Although East had mustered just two runs through seven frames, seven of its nine hits came with two outs – including back-to-back singles by junior Carson Armijo and senior Nikole High during the fifth inning that scored the team’s other two runs.
“We know that we can rally even with two outs. It’s about not being picky, not pressing and staying in your zone,” Mosteller said.
Upon seizing the lead in the eighth, High – who pitched the final four innings in relief for Armijo – retired the final three Lady Wildcats in order, prolonging a string of late-game hardships for the reigning district champions, who have incurred five district losses by a combined eight runs this season.
“We’ve been in every game in district, but I think we’re still trying to figure out how to win close games,” said Justin Pipak, Plano head coach. “We scored two runs and that has been kind of been our bugaboo, but they’re still fighting out there.”
The Lady Wildcats are 0-5 in district ballgames when held to two runs or less – a trend that might sound typical for any team, except in those same setbacks, Plano is allowing only 1.6 runs.
On Tuesday, Plano did its damage during the back half of the contest, recording seven of its nine hits over the final five innings. Senior Czoey White and junior Lily Ray logged three hits apiece and scored both of the team’s runs in the loss.
“Lily and Czoey have been working really hard at practice and trying to figure out what’s going on,” Pipak said. “Over the last week, they’ve really stood out at practice and it showed tonight at the plate.”
East, meanwhile got hits from seven different batters, including multi-hit performances by Armijo and Dart. In the circle, High and Armijo teamed up to hold Plano to two earned runs, while junior Audrey McNeill pitched all eight frames for the Lady Wildcats and struck out five in the loss.
“Every game, it doesn’t matter if you’re in first or seventh, it’s going to be a battle every night,” Pipak said. “You just have to keep fighting and we’re still in a position where we can make some noise.”
Plano, bound for its second bye of the district schedule, looks to regroup for a 7 p.m. Tuesday outing at home against Boyd – a matchup where a playoff berth could potentially be at stake. East, meanwhile, takes the field at 7 p.m. Friday against McKinney in hopes of furthering its postseason pursuit.
“We’ve been in just about every game,” Mosteller said. “I kept telling them it’s been just one play here or there … and letting them know that if we eliminate some of those errors, good things will happen. They saw that and know that it’s there to take, so we’re just getting our momentum going for the second round.”