When a team gets this close, it’s different.

Countless other softball teams in the state had their seasons ended a couple of weeks ago, or more.

But Navarro made it all the way to the regional final, just one series away from playing for the 4A D2 state championship.

And in two successive ballgames, the Lady Panthers were just one hit, one run, one ball bouncing their way — from winning the games that would take them to state.

Navarro lost to Fredericksburg on Thursday by the same 2-1 score as Tuesday night’s loss, to fall in the regional final and end the season.

Senior Bailey Stanzione summed it up best.

“We had a good season, but I think all of us agree, we weren’t finished yet,” she said, after the tears had dried. “They put up a good fight and had a good ballgame, but I know that if we could have one more chance, I know my girls and I would get the job done.”

Head coach Darrel Harborth was feeling the same way, noting how close the two games were and that one play could have made the difference.

“They were those type of games, where one hit, one error, could have led to big things for us,” Harborth said.

Game two

After struggling to score in game one of the series, senior Emily Hinkelmann gave Navarro fans hope early that the bats would get going in game two Thursday night.

Hinkelmann smashed a shot away from the wind howling in from left field, and the ball carried over the fence in right to stake the Lady Panthers to a 1-0 lead.

Stanzione then cracked a single into left field, and Navarro had one on with no outs.

Stazione stole second and advanced to third after Sydnie Booker grounded out to the pitcher, and it appeared the Panthers could add to the lead.

But a pop up to the pitcher, and another ground out to the circle left Stanzione stranded at third at the end of the inning.

Fredericksburg played small ball in the fourth inning to take the lead.

Effectively using their team speed, the Billies bunted four times in the inning, scoring two runs in the process.

With runners at second and third, a heads up throw to Haleigh Ortiz picked off the lead runner and Navarro needed just one out to get out of the inning tied at 1-1.

But a hard shot at Ortiz was too hot to handle, bounced into left field and the Billies scored again to take the 2-1 lead.

Navarro’s best and final chance to tie the game or take the lead came in the sixth inning, when Ortiz and Alyssa Hernandez started the inning with successive singles to put two runners on with no outs.

Alexis Valdez then hit a line shot to center field, and Ortiz, who had taken off for third when the ball was hit on a hit-and-run called by the coach, was thrown out at second base for the double play.

“We rolled the dice in the sixth inning with a hit-and-run,” Harborth said. “Alexis hit the ball solid, and if it was just 10 feet right or left, we score two runs to take the lead. Tonight and in the last game, we had several of those atom balls (balls hit solidly) that were just right at somebody.

“But Fredericksburg is solid defensively and they made the plays. They held us to one run two games in a row when we had scored a lot of runs in these playoff games.”

Hinkelmann gave Navarro one more shot with one runner left at first, hitting a hard liner to right field. But the Billies outfielder, running at full speed, extended and dove to make the unbelievable catch, and end Navarro’s last serious threat to tie the game.

The seniors

Coach Harborth talked about his senior-laden squad after the game.

“They’ve all been a part of the varsity for four years,” he said. “They really grew up this year and have been such a fun group to coach. I feel for them right now, but they’ve made a lot of good memories, left a legacy for the school in the softball program, and every one of them are just class acts.”

Hinkelmann reflected on the team that had advanced farther than any other in school history.

“The season has been great,” she said. “The way we were meshing — we were hitting the ball good, the defense was good as well.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to come to an end.”

Valdez, who pitched all 14 innings in the two games, noted the difficult second inning, when Fredericksburg bunted their way into the lead.

“It’s tough to give up those little hits,” she said. “We like to come back with our bats, but unfortunately tonight we didn’t do that.”

Slugger Alyssa Hernandez agreed with coach Harborth — that a couple of balls hit in different places might have made a difference.

“We hit the ball really good,” she said. “But they seemed to be right at them, there is really nothing you can do about that.

“All these seniors, we did amazing this year, we set school records that nobody has ever done before. It feels really good to know that we came this far.”

For the team to make it to the final four in the state made an impression on Ashlea Frederick.

“It’s fun to know that we’re that good,” she said. “All the effort, all the sweat — it paid off. To get this far and have this experience, gives us memories to hold on to forever.”

As undefeated district champs, Navarro was 34-12 overall beating the defending regional champs, Beeville Jones, in the playoff’s second round and serving as regional finalists.

 

Kevin Duke is the sports editor for the Seguin Gazette. He can be contacted by e-mail at sports@seguingazette.com.

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