Heading into their best-of-three playoff series against Plano on Friday night, Guyer head coach Keith Medford knew his team would have to play a near-perfect game to take a series lead over its powerhouse opponent.
In Game 1 at Wildcat Field, Guyer nearly did it.
Plano, the No. 17 team in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association national rankings, got three of its four hits in the top of the third inning, scoring both of its runs in a 2-1 win over Guyer.
The win gives Plano (26-4) a 1-0 series lead heading into today’s Game 2, which will begin at 2 p.m. at Plano with Guyer facing elimination.
“We played a great game,” Medford said. “I have no complaints whatsoever with how we played that game. That’s a playoff game right there against a really good team.”
Guyer starting pitcher Suzette Palmer gave up just one hit and two walks outside of Plano’s two-run third inning. In that inning, Plano leadoff hitter Kristen Miles drew a one-out walk that was followed by consecutive bunt singles to load the bases for cleanup hitter Ashley McDowell.
McDowell sent a 2-1 pitch to shallow right field to score Miles. The next hitter, pitcher Kat Batey, hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Plano’s other run. But that was all Plano would get off of Palmer.
“That was by far her best effort of the season,” Medford said of his junior pitcher. “It doesn’t really matter what her strikeout count is, but she got a lot of really weak-hit balls. She kept them off balance. It had a lot to do with [catcher] Megan [Washam] calling pitches. They stuck with our plan. This ballgame could have gone either way. My kids stepped up and played their hearts out tonight.”
Their plan included Palmer moving the ball all around the strike zone – up, down, inside and outside with pinpoint control and good movement.
“I know the coach really well, and he’s a great coach,” Plano head coach Cynthia Zea said of Medford. “He had them ready. They were ready for everything we were gonna do. They pitched us really well. I knew he’d coach them up and put a great game on the field. That was just a battle. They gave us all we could handle.”
Guyer (20-9-1) got on the board first in the bottom of the second inning on Kaitlyn Thomas’ one-out single to right field that scored Kennedy Been from second base, but the lead would not even last an inning.
Guyer had plenty of other chances to push runs across but ran into the defensive play of Plano third baseman Erin Lowell.
After leadoff hitter Alicia Weber walked to lead off the sixth inning and two straight sacrifice bunt attempts were popped up for outs, Been came to the plate with a chance to even the score. She belted a 1-2 pitch down the line to Lowell, who caught the ball to end the inning on a ball that might have scored Weber.
But it was the seventh inning when Guyer made its serious threat.
Kylie Miyata led off with a single off, and Thomas’ bunt attempt got her on base when the play at second base was botched, leaving both runners safe.
Thomas and pinch hitter Alyssa Murphy executed a double steal of second and third base to put the winning run in scoring position for Apryl Weber with one out.
Weber hit another shot at Lowell, who made the catch for the out, and then freshman right fielder Hannah Hodapp ended the game with a well-hit fly out to left field, stranding runners on second and third base.
“She [Lowell] made one on Kennedy where she was shaking her hand the ball was hit so hard, and then the last one on Apryl was hit extremely well and would’ve scored one for sure,” Medford said. “Those were just big plays.”
Even though his team took the loss, Medford said the way they played and executed their game plan gives the team confidence heading into today’s win-or-go-home game.
“We knew we could play like this,” Medford said. “We haven’t put one together like this so I think it just reassures what we’ve been telling them and what they’ve been telling each other. We learned we can play with anybody. We can play with the biggest dog on the block. We’re gonna take that mentality to tomorrow now. All we have to do to is win tomorrow and then go to Monday [for Game 3].”
Zea said she expects to see a slightly different game today, now that both teams are more familiar with each other.
“We’ll go out there and throw some different stuff at them, and they’ll do the same to us,” she said. “Now that we’ve seen them and they’ve seen us, I fully expect tomorrow to just be a battle royale. We’ll just get up there and grip it and rip it.”