|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
April 17, 2004 -- GREENVILLE -- One stinkin' pitch. One cursed change-up.
That was all that separated Melissa McSheffery from a perfect game Friday as the Sulphur Springs senior sat down 19 consecutive Greenville batters in a 9-0 win that wrapped up a playoff berth for the Lady Cats.
McSheffery also had a pair of hits, including a double, and Crystal Smitherman lined a pair of triples to the fence, but the focus of the game was on McSheffery's masterpiece on the mound.
She wove 6 1/3 perfect innings before Greenville's Holly Patterson singled on a 1-0 pitch through the left side of the infield. McSheffery had baffled Greenville hitters with the occasional change-up throughout the game.
"She hit a change-up," McSheffery said with a half-smile, half grimace. "That was close.
"We played solid defense, that was they key. My defense really backed me up tonight. They hit a lot of ground balls that turned into routine plays. Everybody made the plays, everybody really worked hard. And we had enthusiasm, which we had been missing for the last several games. We picked it up last game."
She was referring to the extra-inning, come-from-behind victory over Sherman on Tuesday that seemed to pump some extra life into the team after they had stumbled the previous game against Denison. The SSHS defense, which had been somewhat erratic in their two district losses, was absolutely solid on Friday.
They recorded nine ground ball outs, seven of them to the left side of the infield to third baseman Stephanie Kethley and shortstop Savana Gibby. First baseman Hollie Watson also had a fine game, digging out four low throws.
Greenville only had a couple of chances to reach base before the seventh inning. With two outs in the fourth, Trinity Brown hit a grounder into the hole between third and short, but Gibby backhanded the ball and threw her out. Then, in the sixth, Allison Nicholson hit a looping liner to centerfield, but Kristen Cross got there easily for the putout. That was the only other ball Greenville hit that made it to the outfield.
"Melissa did an outstanding job the way she came in and threw," said SSHS coach John McCullough. "She was very economical on her pitches, keeping it around the plate and making them put in play. We were doing a great job playing defense. Just that one batter ... that's it."
Offensively, the Lady Cats had baserunners in every inning, keyed by McSheffery, who has now hit safely in seven of the team's eight district games, and Smitherman, whose has caught fire since her lead-off double in the eighth inning against Sherman ignited the team.
Smitherman, who walked and reached on an error in addition to her two triples, has reached base safely in six straight plate appearances.
"Crystal is hitting the ball well," McCullough said. "She gets really focused up there. She hits better with two strikes for some reason. She's hitting the ball hard, hitting in the gaps and getting extra bases."
She had the first hit of the game, lining a ball past the right fielder for a triple in the second inning and scoring on a wild pitch, one of five in the game for Patterson.
The score stayed 1-0 until the fifth when Kethley singled to right-center and scored on Casey Carper's single down the right field line to make it 2-0. Then, in the sixth, SSHS added two more runs as McSheffery walked and Krissy Cotten came in as a courtesy runner. She stole second and came around on Smitherman's second triple of the game -- a one-hopper to the right field fence. Smitherman then scored on another wild pitch.
In the seventh, the Lady Cats added five more runs, helped out by four Greenville errors. The big hits were consecutive RBI singles by Whitney Gideon and McSheffery, then a two-out, two-run double to right by Courtney Aguilar.
The win by the Lady Cats (20-7-1 overall, 7-2 in District 11-4A), coupled by McKinney North's 6-1 victory over Denison puts Sulphur Springs alone in second place and wrapped up a playoff berth. They have a highly-anticipated Senior Night match-up with North (8-0) on Tuesday.
"Hopefully, we can get two wins next week and stay on a roll for the playoffs," McCullough said. "Everything was really upbeat at practice this week after that Sherman win. The whole game tonight, they were staying with it, encouraging each other and staying up. Hopefully, that win will propel us the rest of the way."