HARTVILE – One big inning propelled the Houston softball team to its first-ever district victory.
Make that a huge inning.
The Lady Tigers scored 12 times in the fourth inning to erase what had been an early five-run deficit as they rallied past Seymour 17-6 Wednesday afternoon in the opening round of the Class 2 District 3 tournament.
After two seasons of losing in the opening round, Houston (10-10) got its first district victory with an impressive comeback.
“It’s great for the program, great for the school,” Lady Tigers coach Willy Walker said. “I feel like softball is taking a step in the right direction.”
The third-seeded Lady Tigers advanced to face No. 2 Willow Springs in today’s 4 p.m. semifinals. The Lady Bears defeated Plato 9-1 on Monday.
In the other semifinal, fourth-seeded Gainesville faces No. 1 Hartville. Gainesville beat Mansfield 11-1 Monday. Hartville had a first-round bye.
Houston lost 10-6 Friday to Willow Springs. But Walker said he had experimented with his pitching staff that game in preparation for a potential matchup in the district semifinals.
“We went into the game to prepare us for districts, not that we had to win the game,” Walker said of the regular-season game. “The seedings and SCA were set.”
The district opener started poorly for the Lady Tigers, who trailed 6-1 after the top of the third inning. But it couldn’t have ended any better.
Taylor Franklin homered over the left-field fence to spark a four-run third inning that pulled Houston within a run. Then the Lady Tigers pushed across 12 runs in the biggest offensive inning in Walker’s three-year tenure.
The Lady Tigers sent 16 batters to the plate in the inning. At one point, 10 batters reached base safely and all 10 scored. Each of Houston’s 12 runs were earned.
Walker said the offensive explosion began after his players adjusted to the speed of Seymour starter Kaylee Bush.
“Even though I slowed the pitching machine down (Tuesday), our mindset was facing Bakersfield (from Monday), and that girl throws in the low 60s,” Walker said. “It’s pretty tough to adjust from that pitch to the low 50s, which is probably what we saw today.”
Kayla Kelley ignited the fourth-inning barrage with a two-run double that put Houston ahead 7-6. Following a strikeout, Belle Knarr, Kaylea Preheim, and Lizzy Swindell each had run-scoring singles.
After Kenzie Scheets was hit by a pitch, Hailey Dodson and Maddie Vandiver produced RBI singles. Knarr capped the rally with her second RBI single – both infield slap bunts – to give Houston a commanding 11-run advantage.
Kelley worked around an error in the top of the fifth to seal the victory.
Walker credited Franklin with jump-starting the HHS offense. Her third-inning home run was the first of 16 runs the Lady Tigers scored in two innings.
“It boosted us a lot,” Walker said. “She is capable of doing that, as long as she gets her arms extended and doesn’t drop her hands.”
It almost didn’t count.
As Franklin jogged around third base, her teammates greeted her with high fives before she reached the plate. Walker had to yell at Franklin, who made a turn and took a couple steps toward the dugout, to touch home.
“The umpire said if one of the players would have pushed her to encourage her to do that, then he would have called her out,” Walker said. “We won’t be doing that anymore.”
Knarr had three infield singles and three RBIs for Houston. Vandiver had a pair of hits, two steals and three runs. Freshman Olivia Woosley and Kelley also scored three times apiece.
Eight different HHS batters had at least one hit apiece.
Kelley gave up five hits and six earned runs in the complete-game victory. She struck out four and walked four.
“We’re one game closer to our goal,” Walker said. “Our goal wasn’t just one game. It’s to win the district championship. That’s where our mindset is at.”
SEYMOUR (ab-r-h-bi) – Fan 3-1-2-1. Galbraith 1-0-0-0. Cook 3-1-1-0. Bush 2-2-1-2. Theiman 3-0-0-0. Pogue 2-1-1-2. Horn 3-0-0-0. Helms 1-1-0-0. Young 2-0-0-0. Totals 20-6-5-5.
HOUSTON (ab-r-h-bi) – Vandiver 3-3-2-0. Franklin 4-2-1-1. Kelley 4-3-1-2. Woosley 3-3-0-0. Knarr c 4-2-3-3. Preheim 4-1-1-1. Swindell 3-1-1-1. Scheets 2-1-1-0. Dodson 2-1-1-1. Totals 29-17-11-9.
2B: Pogue, Kelley. HR: Bush, Franklin. SAC: Galbraith. SB: Fan, Vandiver 2, Woosley.
HBP: Scheets (by Bush).
Gainesville 11, Mansfield 1
Willow Springs 9, Plato 1
Houston 17, Seymour 6
(1) Hartville vs. (4) Gainesville, 2 p.m.
(2) Willow Springs vs. (3) Houston, 4 p.m.
Championship, 5 p.m.