Lady Cats softball clinches softball berth for fifth consecutive year
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

April 13, 2005 - As soon as the Sulphur Springs Lady Cats pulled off a double play to end their 7-0 victory over the Mount Pleasant Lady Tigers on Tuesday, they got two doses of good news.

The Lady Cats not only clinched a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive year, they moved into a tie for first place in the district, courtesy of Paris' 5-2 upset of Texas High.

Both SSHS (15-7-2 overall) and Texas High (21-3) have 6-1 records in District 12-4A. Mount Pleasant (12-11-1, 1-6) was eliminated from playoff contention with the loss.

The Lady Cats knocked out seven hits against MP starter Laura Rawlings, who was pitching for the first time since having surgery on her face after being hit by a line drive about six weeks ago, and Hannah Jones. But, SSHS head coach John McCullough said it was another strong defensive outing that was most satisfying.

The Lady Cats turned two double plays, both initiated at second base, while third baseman Ne-Ne Hynson and pitcher Hailey Watson each turned potential line drives into outs.

"Right now, we're playing great defense," McCullough said. "Obviously, we stressed that early in the year, and we were really struggling early in the year. But, the girls have continued to work hard.

"Now, I think the girls are in positions where they've been for seven or eight weeks and now they're getting comfortable. They're continuing to work hard, and they're doing a great job on defense."

Offensively, lead-off hitter Casey Carper went 3-for-3 with a walk, Hynson was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, and senior Stephanie Kethley drilled a bases-clearing, 3-run double in the fifth that sealed the victory.

"What was really big was Casey Carper again. She was on base four times for us," McCullough said. "She was able to do it bunting, hitting, drawing a walk, whatever it takes. She's so valuable in the lead-off spot that you can't even measure it."

The Lady Cats took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Watson doubled over the center fielder's head. Susan Dorn came in as a courtesy runner and scored on an MP throwing error.

The SSHS defense then got itself out of a jam in the second. Mount Pleasant put two runners on with no outs, but Carper turned a line drive into a double play when she snagged it and flipped to shortstop Tara Gibby at second base for the force. Watson then had one of her three strikeouts to end the inning.

That got Watson in a groove and she retired 13 of the next 14 batters she faced.

Sulphur Springs upped its advantage to 3-0 in the third when Carper opened the inning with a bunt single, stole second and scored on Hynson's single up the middle. Hynson then came around on Watson's ground ball.

Then, in the fifth came the big blow. SSHS loaded the bases on a single by Hynson, a hit-by-pitch for Brittany Moore and a fielder's choice grounder by Watson. Pinch hitter Kaneisha Johnson, who was 2-for-2 in her two previous pinch-hitting appearances, knocked in a run with a infield grounder that was mishandled by the shortstop.

Kethley then slapped a 3-1 offering to the fence in left-center field, clearing the bases and giving the Lady Cats a 7-0 lead.

Then, in the seventh, the Lady Cat defense preserved the shutout. After two walks put runners on first and second with one out, freshman second baseman Amanda McGowin fielded a grounder, touched the runner and threw on to first to end the game.

Watson ended the game giving up just three hits while walking three and striking out three.

"When the ball's hit, everyone on the field pretty much feels like there's going to be an out. That's a comforting feeling for pitcher to know that when the ball is put in play, your teammates will make the plays," McCullough said. "Tonight, Hailey only had three strikeouts, but at the same time, they only had three hits because when the ball was hit, we made plays."

Schedule Changes: The Lady Cats' next game is Friday in Greenville, but the start time has been moved up to 5:30 p.m. Then, the SSHS game against Texas High has been moved from next Tuesday to Thursday due to the TAKS test being given across the state. The SS-TH game will start at 7 p.m.

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