Lady Cats close out regular season with win over North Lamar
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

April 23, 2005 - PARIS - When they met on Friday, both the Sulphur Springs Lady Cats and North Lamar Pantherettes were coming off emotional losses the night before, but it was the Lady Cats who clearly got over it.

With junior Hailey Watson taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning and her teammates playing an error-free game, Sulphur Springs hammered the Pantherettes, 7-1.

The loss apparently knocked North Lamar (17-13 overall, 5-5 in District 12-4A) out of playoff contention. Or did it?

There was talk after the game that third-place Paris, who beat Greenville on Friday to improve to 6-4 in district, had two players who participated in more than the 17 regular games and three tournaments allowed by the UIL. Whether that happened or not will be sorted out early next week.

Whatever the outcome, it will not affect the Lady Cats (17-8-2, 8-2), who had already clinched the district runner-up spot. They will start the playoffs next week, probably on Friday, against either Mesquite Poteet or Forney.

The girls and head coach John McCullough said it was important to get back on the winning track after Thursday's 13-9 loss to district champion Texas High.

"We really wanted to be on a roll going into the playoffs instead of two losses," said Watson, who struck out five and allowed just two hits. "We really wanted to go in with a win so we could continue that in the playoffs.

"I think we're ready for the playoffs. We're excited. We know that anything can happen once you get in, and we have to do our best."

After slapping out 15 hits on Thursday, the Lady Cats had 10 more against North Lamar, including two-hit games from lead-off hitter Casey Carper and junior catcher Nichole Fender. Carper and junior shortstop Tara Gibby, who made a pair of outstanding defensive plays, each scored two runs, while Stephanie Kethley drove in three and Watson had two RBI.

The Lady Cats batted around in the third inning to break open a scoreless tie.

Gibby, batting in the No. 9 spot, started the rally with a sharp single to left. Carper then reached on an error and Ne-Ne Hynson bunted the runners to second and third. Kethley then reached on a sacrifice bunt that allowed Gibby to score, and Watson sent a fly ball to left, scoring Carper for a 2-0 SSHS lead.

After a single by Fender and a walk to Kaneisha Johnson, Brittany Moore drove in one run with an infield single, and when the ball was mishandled another run came in for a 4-0 advantage.

Sulphur Springs added two more runs in the fourth when Gibby again led off the inning, this time with a walk. An illegal pitch - there were 11 illegal pitches called in the game - sent Gibby to second and Kethley drove her home with a looping double down the left field line. Kethley then scored on Watson's RBI double off the wall in left.

The final run came in the sixth when Carper doubled to left and came in on Kethley's sacrifice fly to center.

Watson, meanwhile, was cruising on the mound. The only base runner in the first four innings was a full-count walk that occurred when a pop-up was negated due to an illegal pitch. She had a no-hitter going until Kellie Head doubled to right in the fifth.

Part of her success came in the field. Gibby made a couple of outstanding plays, including a back-to-the-infield catch of a pop-up to start the game and a leaping grab of a line drive in the second inning.

"I wanted them to step up and get back to playing the type of defense we've played for the last five or six games," said McCullough. "I wanted them to finish district on a strong note and go to the playoffs on a win.

"I wanted them to come out and get back to playing our kind of softball."

Playoff Notes - Mesquite Poteet and Forney finish up their season on Monday to see who is second and third in District 11-4A. Sulphur Springs will play the loser of the game in the first round of the playoffs.

The playoff game will likely be Friday, but no time or place has been determined. The Lady Cats played both teams during the regular season, tying Poteet, 4-4, at the Arlington tournament, and losing a road game to Forney, 3-2.

Sulphur Springs will host Mount Vernon in a warm-up game at 5 p.m. Tuesday. It will be a make-up of a game rained out earlier this year.

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