It was hot Tuesday night in Dripping Springs for the first pitch in game one of the Navarro, Fredericksburg 4A Region 4 final.
It had to be the hottest game of the playoffs so far … and two potent offenses never got going in the heat.
Superb pitching by the Lady Panthers and Billies staff shut down the bats on both sides — and No. 5 Fredericksburg (34-8) outlasted No. 8 Navarro 2-1 to take a 1-0 series lead.
Game one of the regional final was the definition of a pitcher’s duel.
The game lasted just an hour and 30 minutes and lacked the offensive firepower that both teams had displayed in the previous four rounds of the playoffs.
Navarro’s Alexis Valdez and the Billies’ Ella Weinheimer put up donuts for five innings each in the game and pitched out of the few jams they faced.
The Lady Panthers (34-10) and the Billies backed up the pitching with good defense, as neither team committed an error in the game.
“It was a typical regional final with two good defensive teams and good pitching,” Navarro head coach Darrell Harborth said. “We had a few balls that were hit hard that might have helped us out a little, but they were hit right at people.
“She’s the type of pitcher I think we can hit, and we had those balls that were hit well. But they are a good defensive team, a good ball club, so we just have to find the holes.”
Harborth went with Valdez again in the circle, and while she allowed a run in each of the first two innings, she put up zeros the rest of the game while taking the loss.
“They did a little bit more early on with their bunting and their speed, and the one girl that got hit by a pitch came around to score,” Harborth said. “It’s the little walks and things like that that come back to get you.”
Alyssa Hernandez scored the Lady Panthers only run in the fourth, after a double and then a line shot from Valdez, which brought Hernandez home and cut the lead to 2-1.Navarro had its chance to tie the game in the sixth and seventh inning.
But unlike the previous five straight wins in the playoffs, the Panthers could not get the key hit to get the runners home, with two hard hit balls in the sixth fielded by the Billies for the out.
Hernandez was on again after her second double of the game, and Sydnie Booker smoked a line drive to left field.
But it was right at the left fielder and was caught cleanly for the out.
Haleigh Ortiz then hit a hard shot tooward the hole at second base.
However, the Billies’ second baseman got to it and threw for the out at first to end the threat.
“That one I thought might get through,” Harborth said. “But their second basemen made a nice stop. I wish we had hit a few more hard ones out there to see what their defense could do.”
Emma Hinkelmann got things started for Navarro again in the seventh, with a double to the fence to lead off the inning.
But two successive strikeouts and a fielder’s choice out at second left Hinkelmann stranded at third to end the game.
Ashlea Frederick and Hernandez led the Lady Panthers with two hits each, while Valdez collected Navarro’s only RBI of the game.
Valdez kept the Lady Panthers in the game in the only inning in which she was in trouble, the fourth.
Weinheimer doubled to start the inning and courtesy runner Olivia Findley advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt.
Karlie Nebgen advanced to second on another bunt, and the Billies had runners at second and third with one out.
But Valdez struck out the next batter and got a harmless pop foul for the third out — and the lead was held to one.
“She only gave up two runs to a team that scores eight or nine a game,” Harborth said. “She did an outstanding job, the defense played great, we just couldn’t quite get one or two more runs in.”
Down a game, Harborth knows that the team can’t get ahead of itself, and must take it one game at a time.
“We have to come back Thursday, worry about winning there and take care of business,” the coach said. “We’ll worry about Friday when we get there.”
Game two is set for tonight at 6:30 back in Dripping Springs.
Kevin Duke is the sports editor of the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.