AUSTIN — After the first two Pilot Point batters got on base in the bottom of the sixth inning, it seemed as if the Lady Cats were finally going to break through and take control of what had been a scoreless pitchers’ duel.
After a walk to lead off the inning, star senior pitcher Skylar Cagle laid down a perfect bunt for a base hit to put runners on first and second base with no outs. Then, Cagle made a rare mistake when she got caught too far off of first base after a lineout to shortstop, allowing Kingsville Santa Gertrudis Academy to turn a double play and kill the momentum the Lady Cats had started to build.
That’s when Allison Strittmatter immediately recaptured it, lacing an RBI double to the center field wall that scored pinch runner Allison Ray en route to a 1-0 victory in the Class 2A state championship game at McCombs Field on Thursday.
“It definitely did kill [the momentum],” Strittmatter said of the double play before her at-bat. “There were two outs, and I knew it was my turn to be the hero and make a mark. I stepped up, and I was really wanting to do it for my team. They deserve it more than any team I’ve ever known.”
Strittmatter, a junior who had a remarkable freshman season, has struggled at times this year but picked up her game late in the regular season and into the playoffs, and head coach James Ramsey knew it would be a special night for her prior to the game.
“I told Allison Strittmatter it was going to be her night,” Ramsey said, after Strittmatter had an RBI in Wednesday’s 5-2 semifinal victory over Garrison. “I said, ‘This is your night,’ and she came through in a big way.”
Cagle, who was awarded the championship game MVP award, knew her best friend would come through and help her team forget about her mistake just an at-bat earlier.
“I don’t know why I got too far off [first base],” Cagle said, laughing. “It was just one of those things. I knew, though, Allison’s done this all year. She’s stepped up in huge spots, and I knew she had it.”
As big as Strittmatter’s at-bat late in the game was, Cagle’s performance in the circle was equally clutch.
Academy (39-5), which made an improbable rally in Wednesday’s semifinal against Hawley by scoring four runs in the bottom of the seventh to win 7-6, had plenty of golden opportunities of its own.
But the Lady Lions left eight runners on base, thanks to some brilliant escape jobs from Cagle, a Northwestern State signee who finished the game allowing five hits with eight strikeouts for Pilot Point (40-2-1).
Four of those runners were stranded in scoring position, but the Lady Lions’ best scoring chance came in the top of the sixth when the game was still scoreless.
Miranda Gonzalez led off the inning with a single and advanced to third base on an error by Pilot Point’s center fielder on a single from Celeste Castillo, putting runners on second and third with one out.
At that point, the pressure was on.
“They were a very good team,” Cagle said. “I just kept telling myself to breathe and keep moving my pitches and I’d be all right. I knew my defense was awesome behind me, and I knew we’d be OK.”
It was exactly the type of game Ramsey expected, and he was happy to have Cagle in the circle for the final time, as Pilot Point was outhit 5-4 thanks to solid performance from Cagle’s counterpart, Carla Noel.
“We knew it would be a big-time battle,” Ramsey said. “I knew Skylar was going to have to really throw well. We’d have to make runs when we could get them. They were hard to come by.”
Cagle capped a standout career as a four-year starter to finish the season with a perfect record, leaving her coach with a sense of amazement at her accomplishments.
“Way to go out — a state champion,” Ramsey said. “She’s 28-0. You can’t get any better.
“She’s just unbelievable. She’s been that way since she came to us as a freshman. She’s gotten better and better every year with the experience, and I’m glad to have had the honor to coach her.”
While Cagle is finished as a Lady Cat after four stellar seasons and a state title, she said her teammates are not finished being players in Austin despite the loss of five senior starters.
One of those returning is Strittmatter, who delivered the biggest hit in Pilot Point softball history Thursday and will look to be back on the same stage in 2014.
“They’re going to be good,” Cagle said. “They are losing five of us, but they’ll be just fine. I plan on being here [at the state tournament] next year watching them in the stands. They can do it.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.
Pilot Point 1, Kingsville Santa Gertrudis Academy High 0
WP — Skylar Cagle (28-0). LP — Carla Noel (26-5). 2B — PP: Skylar Cagle, Allison Strittmatter. Records — Santa Gertrudis Academy (39-5). Pilot Point (40-2-1).