When Mexico varsity softball pitcher Paytience Lawson-Holman struck out eight of the first nine hitters she faced on Monday in the Class 2, District 8, title game at Hannibal against the host Lady Pirates, it felt like it was just a matter of time until they were hoisting a trophy.
Because the Lady Bulldogs were then retired in order in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, that sent the game into the final stanza in a scoreless deadlock that saw both teams make a serious reach for glory before ending just shy of their goal.
That meant extra innings, and after Lawson-Holman put Hannibal to bed in short order in the top of the eighth, pinch hitter Shelby Shaw posted a leadoff single for Mexico before pinch runner Raigan Playter moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Taylor Sherrow. She then came home on a double to left field by Reghan Smith to give Mexico the walk-off win 1-0.
"Obviously, we're pretty excited. That was quite a game to go that long with nobody scoring," said coach Keith Louder. "We had an opportunity early and tried to squeeze a run in, but that didn't work for us. Right now we're just excited. This is something we started the year wanting. Winning a district title was a big goal for us, so to get it accomplished feels special. Smith had a big at-bat. That's the kind of at-bat we were looking for. She came up with a huge hit."
The Lady Bulldogs first real attempt at crossing the plate came in the bottom of the third inning when Sherrow hit a one-out triple. Hannibal's response was to bring in a new pitcher who promptly walked Mattie Roth. Once Roth had then stole second, that put Smith in position to drive home a run with a well-placed squeeze bunt. Instead, the runner was called out on a close play at home plate that Aaryn Sampo followed by striking out to end the inning.
"I felt like we stayed team oriented. We really tried to play within ourselves because one person can't win it," Louder said. "Just like that last inning, it takes a couple of hits. I felt like our kids handled that pressure well and we made a couple of plays that we needed to make. Defensively we had a solid night. We made no errors, and when you get good pitching and make no errors and don't allow any runs, you can usually find a way to win."
The seventh wasn't quite as dramatic for Mexico, but after Lawson-Holman and Logan Blevins struck out and lined out to the pitcher, respectively, Hayley Mills did come through with a single to centerfield. The hope that arose from that hit was short-lived, though, as Mackenzie Davis swung and missed one too many times.
"Mills has pitched for us five or six times this year, but Paytience has carried the work load. Mills does a great job when she's called on, but Paytience has handled most of our pitching this year and probably will continue to down the stretch," said Louder. "We had a pretty hectic part of our season when we had a lot of games and I think (Paytience) got a little fatigued. Now she's had some rest time and that's been a big deal for her. I think it's helped her velocity come back up a little bit."
Prior to all of that Lawson-Holman found herself working with runners on first and second in the top of the seventh after giving up a hard-earned, two-out walk. Despite all the foul tips the Lady Bulldog hurler had just suffered, she didn't allow that to effect her. Instead, she forced the next Lady Pirate that stepped to the plate to fly out to the shortstop, and three outs later off to extra innings this contest went.
Mexico now moves on to face St. Dominic. In the district semifinals last Thursday Mexico also eliminated defending state champ Warrenton 2-0.
"I believe we play at St. Dominic, but I don't know too much about them. I didn't want to look ahead. We just wanted to get tonight taken care of and now we'll start looking at them pretty hard," Louder said. "Every year is a new group of kids, so it's just as exciting. It doesn't matter how it gets done. When I see the excitement in the kids eyes, that makes it worth while to me."