AUSTIN — In Pilot Point’s game prior to Wednesday’s Class 2A semifinal against Garrison, senior second baseman Lori Campbell did not even step to the plate.
Pilot Point coach James Ramsey had Campbell as a flex player in his lineup for Game 2 of the regional finals against Brock for what Campbell termed as “punishment for making an error.”
After Wednesday’s semifinal, Campbell had the last laugh, and her head coach could not have been happier after her two-run single capped a four-run inning that put the Lady Cats in front as they cruised to a 5-2 win over Garrison.
Pilot Point (39-2-1), the state’s top-ranked team in the Texas Girls Coaches Association 2A poll for the season’s entirety, will face Kingsville Santa Gertrudis Academy in the state title game at 6 p.m. today. Academy beat Hawley 7-6.
In Pilot Point’s only other state tournament appearance, the Lady Cats lost in the Class 3A semifinals in 2005.
“That was big,” Ramsey said of Campbell’s two-out single that stretched the Lady Cats’ lead from 2-0 to 4-0 in the third inning. “A lot of timely hits — Lori Campbell with a big, timely hit. We just came through in a big, crucial time.”
Prior to that offensive onslaught, it looked as if an injury might have derailed the Lady Cats’ chances to break through on the scoreboard.
After reaching base on an error to lead off the third inning, Natalie Larson ran to second base on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Haley Evans and beat a late throw from the Garrison third baseman but slid past the bag, grabbing her hamstring in pain. She was tagged out before the Pilot Point coaches and trainers tended to her and helped her off the field, leaving a runner at first base with one out.
“I was afraid it would hurt us in the end, but it worked out OK,” Ramsey said of Larson’s slide. “When we couldn’t get back on the bag and they got the out, I was a little concerned it might keep us from scoring runs.”
But the Lady Cats’ bats came to life.
Skylar Cagle doubled to put runners on second and third and Preslee Gallaway was put on to load the bases with one out, bringing up Allison Strittmatter. On a 1-1 count, Strittmatter was hit by a pitch from Garrison’s Catherine Heflin to score Evans. After a sacrifice fly by Sierra Brooks scored Cagle, Campbell did her thing.
“I was just thinking I can’t strike out,” Campbell said. “That’s all I was thinking, ‘I can’t strike out.’ I couldn’t let them down. We were so close. That was big. We needed those runs.”
Entering Wednesday’s semifinal, Cagle, a four-year starting pitcher and Northwestern State signee, had allowed just three runs in the Lady Cats’ seven playoff games.
With that fact in the back of her mind, Cagle said the four-run third inning allowed her to settle in, relax and pitch her team into the state championship game with eight strikeouts and no walks while allowing just one earned run.
“As soon as we started scoring runs, that was an automatic confidence booster,” Cagle said. “I felt pretty confident. They were a good team, but I felt confident I could keep them under four [runs]. My team did a good job of scoring runs.”
In her 27th win of the season, Cagle wasn’t as dominant as she sometimes is, turning in just two perfect innings, but she did enough to keep Garrison, which was a Class 1A semifinalist last season, at bay.
“Yes, it’s a huge game,” Cagle said when asked if she was nervous in the early innings. “We knew nothing about them. I just face every batter like they’re the best hitter in Texas, and that usually gets me through.”
Now, Cagle has one huge game remaining in her high school career, which will come to an end tonight — win or lose.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Cagle said. “God has blessed me so much. In January, I prayed I’d win the last game of the season, and I have the opportunity to do that.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.
Pilot Point 5, Garrison 2
WP — Skylar Cagle (27-0). LP — Catherine Heflin (23-9). 2B — PP: Cagle, Allison Strittmatter. Records — Garrison (23-10). Pilot Point (39-2-1).