MADISONVILLE — Splendora saw its season come to an end with a pair of losses to Robinson in a Region III-4A semifinal series Friday night at Madisonville High School.
The Ladycats (29-5), ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, took Game 1 by a score of 14-4 in six innings Thursday, then lost 9-8 in Game 2 and 2-1 in Game 3 in a Friday doubleheader.
“This has been one of the best seasons, for sure,” Splendora coach Deana Eubanks said. “Just a great group of young ladies. We’ve had so much fun. Winning ball games is fun, but we’ve had so much fun outside of softball with these kids. It’s just a really special group of young ladies and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to coach them.”
The Rockets (31-7), ranked No. 5, move on to the region final, where they’ll take on Huffman-Hargrave. After a lopsided Game 1 loss in the semifinal, Robinson coach Bobby Cervenka made sure his team was ready to give maximum effort Friday.
“Splendora’s one helluva team,” Cervenka said. “They are a very, very good team with pitching and hitting. I told my team to go play so on the next day when they woke up, they’d know they did their best and gave it their all. That was the message.”
In Game 3, two runs were all the Rockets needed to move on to the next round.
After Tatum Stephens’ ground-rule double put runners on second and third in the top of the sixth inning, Amanda Marek singled up the middle to plate a pair of runs.
That hit took the lead away from Splendora, which led 1-0 after an RBI single from Gracie Bumpurs scored Shaelyn Sanders in the bottom of the fifth.
In each of the final five innings, the Ladycats left a runner on second base.
“I felt like we had some chances and we didn’t come up with the big hit,” Eubanks said. “Or we came up with what we thought was going to be the big hit and (Robinson) made a play on the ball and got out of the inning.”
Though it wasn’t a winning effort in the end, Splendora pitcher Caleigh Millican was dominant for large stretches of Game 3. The junior pitched a complete game, struck out 14, walked one and allowed three hits. In one stretch, she struck out seven straight batters.
“It looked like she found another level,” Eubanks said of Millican. “She had a little more velocity, a little more pop in that third game. Just a great, gusty performance by her. This is what she does. She’s built to throw pitches and she can throw a lot of them.”
In Game 2, there were four ties and four lead changes.
The final lead change came in the top of the seventh inning, when Robinson scored three runs to take a 9-8 lead.
Stephens’ RBI single started the rally, then Taylor Strain scored on Marek’s infield single to tie the game at eight. After a pitch got away, Marek scored the tiebreaking run.
Robinson hopped out to an early lead thanks to Stephens’ solo home run in the first inning. Stephens was 4-for-5 and a double short of the cycle in the series’ second game.
“Sometimes you’ve got to have players step up,” Cervenka said. “(Stephens) stepped up. She raised her level of play and that was a big factor today.”
Splendora tied up the game in the bottom of the first with Bumpurs’ RBI double.
Three runs in the bottom of the second - all impacted by Rocket errors - gave Splendora a 4-1 lead.
Robinson plated five runs in the top of the third and chased Millican from the circle. Sanders entered the game in relief with the bases loaded and nobody out. One run got across before Splendora got out of the jam.
The Ladycats scored twice in the bottom of the fourth on bases-loaded walks to even up the game at six.
In the bottom of the sixth, Splendora broke the tie with two runs. Leah Hensarling batted the first run home with a single, then scored on Taylor Jordan’s single.
The Rockets took the lead for good in the top of the seventh.
Jordan and Kerstyn McLain, who’s headed to the University of Dallas to play, are the two Ladycat seniors on the 2019 team.
“I’ve had them for four years, so it’ll be tough moving on without them,” Eubanks said of her seniors through tears. “They’ve dedicated so much of their life to softball, so it hurts to see them play that last game. I couldn’t be more proud of those two and I’m so thankful that I got the opportunity to coach those kids and be a small part of their high school career.”