SULPHUR SPRINGS — In Friday’s Game 1 of a best-of-three Class 3A regional semifinal playoff series, Sanger and Atlanta each captured and surrendered the lead.
After Sanger chased Atlanta’s starting pitcher with a two-run home run by Morgan Turkoly in the bottom of the fifth, the Lady Indians had a 4-3 advantage. However, the Lady Rabbits had the last word with a two-run home run in the sixth that fueled a 6-4 victory.
“It could have gone either way,” Sanger coach Jae McMinn said. “It was close. They were ahead; we battled back. We went ahead; they battled back. We ran out of innings. We need to play defense. Our pitching needs to be a little more on game, and we need to find the gaps. We hit it right at them and they made the plays.”
The Lady Rabbits utilized a “small ball” attack in the top of the first, and cleanup hitter Jaci Cullins hit an RBI single to left field.
Atlanta scored two runs in the second after Sanger pitcher Kelly Mardones retired the first two batters. Ashley Whistle drew a walk, and Atlanta took a 3-0 lead with Caroline Cullins’ two-run home run to left.
“They’re a very, very, very good team and good defensively,” McMinn said. “We hit the ball down and we hit it hard at them. They made the plays. They can hit the ball. Their two home runs, it looked like Kelly left it over the plate. We can’t do that.”
Finally breaking through with Carly Barnes’ triple off the center field wall and Jaycee Garza’s homer to right, the Lady Indians (28-10) found themselves down 3-2 after the third inning.
Threatening again after a scoreless fourth inning by Mardones, Sanger’s Savannah Matheus ripped a double to right field, but back-to-back strikeouts by Atlanta pitcher Alaina Oliver kept the Lady Rabbits on top.
After Garza drew a leadoff walk in the fifth, Turkoly hit her sixth home run of the playoffs to give Sanger the lead and force Oliver from the game.
“I figured after a couple of innings they would start reading the pitcher a little bit better, which we did,” McMinn said. “We did leave some runners on base that we couldn’t get in.”
The Lady Rabbits went back in front at 5-4 when Jaci Cullins’ third single set the stage for Lauren Rutland’s two-run homer to left. Atlanta added a run in the seventh on a fielder’s choice.
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.
Atlanta 6, Sanger 4
WP — Alaina Oliver. LP — Kelly Mardones. 2B — S: Savannah Matheus 3B — S: Carly Barnes. HR — A: Caroline Cullins, Lauren Rutland. S: Jaycee Garza, Morgan Turkoly.