Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

May 17, 2014

GC Softball: Hubbard sweeps Dodd City to win region semifinals

MINEOLA — Hailey Davidson’s heart was racing, flying all on its own -- just like the softball in front of her -- rising above everything else and then falling just in time. Her eyes lit up just as she reached up and snatched the ball, the game and season in her glove.

It was over, finally, graciously and joyously over.

That’s the way Hubbard’s longest and most wonderful night of this season ended Friday, with Davidson making a catch in left field for the final out of a 4-3, 5-4 doubleheader sweep over Dodd City in the Class 1A Region Semifinals that sent the Hubbard kids to the mound in celebration and sends these no-quit Lady Jaguars into the next round of the Class 1A playoffs.

They’re headed for the region finals, and are just one step away from the state tournament. There are only eight Class 1A teams left in Texas, and Hubbard (28-5-1) will meet its district rival Bosqueville next week for the right to be one of the final four.

That’s what the sweep of the best-of-three series over Dodd City meant Friday night -- but of course, it means so much more to the Hubbard kids who have had to come back all year just to get here. It’s fitting the Lady Jags came back to win both games Friday.

That’s why this felt so sweet.

“My eyes were as big as a softball,’’ said Davidson later as her teammates gathered around her to relive that final play that ended Dodd City’s season, “When I caught it, it felt awesome!’’

That’s one word for the Hubbard kids.

There are others. Just don’t ask Olivia Curtis to come up with any. She was far too tired for that.

“I’m done,’’ said Curtis, who was amazing, gritty, tough and clutch to mention a few words to describe Hubbard’s ace, who not only pitched a brilliant game to beat Dodd City in the opening game, but did it twice. She went the distance in both games, tossing 14 nail-biting innings against one of the best Class 1A hitting teams in Texas. Dodd City had just scored 21 runs in its area round win over Sam Rayburn.

“I’m done. My body is shot. My emotions are shot. I’m just exhausted in every category,’’ Curtis said. “It’s all right there, right there in that circle,’’ she said pointing to the mound.

She left it all on the field.     

They all did.

“I feel like all nine of us caught that ball,’’ said third baseman Kate Saucke of the final out of the game that came with the tying run at second base for Dodd City, which scored a run in the seventh to crank up the tension. Saucke, who drove in two runs in the second game with a triple in the fifth and a two-out single in the sixth that brought home the eventual winning run, knows her team. It was an all-for-one kind of night.

“I just feel like this is our closest game of the year for us the way we came together,’’ said catcher Amy Anz, who had two hits, scored a run and drove in a run in the second game. “I don’t know how to say it. Everybody had their moment. Everybody came through at the right time.’’

Well said.

Maybe that’s why it felt so sweet, so special and so right for the Hubbard kids, who embraced each other and the moment. They hugged hard. No one wanted to let go.

“We are the closest team,’’ said first baseman Megan Walter, who went 3 for 6 with a double and drove in a run in each game. “Everybody came through tonight. We came together.’’

They needed to. Hubbard came back from a 3-1 deficit in the opener after Walter drove in the first run with a two-out double in the fourth. The Lady Jags scored twice in the fifth. Jamie Goodpaster led off with a single and scored on Nakaila Banks’ two-out triple to the right field wall. Curtis drove home Banks with a double to knot things at 3-3.

Hubbard broke the deadlock with a run in the top of the seventh. Banks walked and raced to third when pitcher Jenna Wallace grabbed Curtis’ grounder and threw to second to get Banks. The throw sailed into center, and Banks raced to third. She scored moments later on a wild pitch for a 4-3 lead.

That was all Curtis needed. She was magnificent in the stretch, throwing four perfect innings to end it, retiring 12 in a row after Dodd City scored on a error in the fourth to take a 3-1 lead. Curtis struck out the side in the fourth and didn’t allow another base runner. She gave up only two earned runs on four hits, including two bloop singles, and struck out five to get the win.

Then came the second game

“I’ll go out on a limb and say this was the most exciting game of my life,’’ said Saucke, an 18-year-old senior who has been playing softball since she was 4.

Both games were classic comebacks, but Game 2 was the money game -- the one with a ticket to the region final on it.

Dodd City (28-6) went to a fresh pitcher, but Hubbard Coach Mike Saucke never hesitated in throwing Curtis, who seemed to get stronger as the game wore on. After striking out five in the opener, Curtis, who is now 25-3-1 this season, mowed down 12 in Game 2. Curtis was shocked when she was told she had a dozen strikeouts.

None was bigger than the final out in the top of the sixth.

Dodd City had taken a 3-2 lead on Katelynn Woodlee’s two-run homer in the third, and now Hubbard was holding onto a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth. A walk and two bloop singles had loaded the bases for the Lady Hornets, and Woodlee was at the plate.

It was one of those Casey-at-the-bat showdowns -- a moment when time seems to stop and everything seems to hang in the balance. Curtis never blinked. She came right after Woodlee and struck her out swinging.

“I wasn’t scared,” Curtis said. “All I was thinking about was I didn‘t want to give her an inside pitch. That’s what she hit the home run on, and I wasn’t going to give her another one.’’

Woodlee went down swinging on a pitch that was low and away. But even then, Curtis shared the strikeout.

“It’s all because of my pitch-caller,’’ she said, pointing to Anz, who has been catching Curtis since they were 10 playing select ball in Waco together. Saucke was on that team, too. And now they are seniors on their final ride.

Curtis escaped a bases loaded jam in the fifth by getting cleanup hitter Keeshia Thompson on a  grounder to second and then getting the No. 5 hitter  Gracie Granstaff on a hard grounder that Saucke made a splendid play on at third. It was second baseman Goodpaster who grabbed Thompson’s grounder and fired home for the force out to keep things at 4-3. That’s right, Goodpaster, a kid who hadn’t played softball since she was 10. It takes a village to win in the playoffs.

“Everyone came through in the field and at the plate,” said Walter, who had some nice moments in the field at first. “This team is cohesive.‘’

And clutch.

Hubbard scored its first two runs in Game 2 after Anz and Walter singled to start the second, and the RBI’s came from Goodpaster, who hits seventh, and Shayla Parks, who hits eighth. Parks is a freshman shortstop who had never played softball before. It takes a village with a lot of heart to win in the playoffs.

The Lady Jags added two runs in the fifth when Saucke hit a triple to the wall in center to bring home Banks, who had singled, and Anz followed with a base hit to short left.

Hubbard’s final run came in the sixth when Banks and Curtis led off with singles and Saucke brought in Banks with a sinking liner that Dodd’s center fielder couldn’t handle. It was Hubbard’s 13th hit of the game.

“They’ve done it all year,” Coach Mike Saucke said. “They’ve come back all year like this. We got hits from the bottom of the lineup and the top. They were all great. Olivia was great. Everybody made plays.

“They (Dodd City) are a great hitting team,” said Saucke, whose team reached the region final a year ago. But this year is different. Hubbard split a pair of games with Bosqueville in district play, losing 3-1 and winning in the final week of the season, 6-0, on a shutout by Curtis.

“These are great kids,’’ Saucke said. “One of them is mine, but they are all mine. I love all of them. Every team has it’s own personality. Every team is special, and this team is special.’’

That’s why Kate Saucke was right when she said “I feel like all nine of us caught that ball.’’

Of course they did.

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