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Lady Lions outlast 5A North Mesquite in ’09 opener

Ennis plates winning run in eighth inning for 1-0 start
Lady Lion softball was the better team for seven-and-a-half innings in Friday night’s season opener at home against the 5A North Mesquite Stallions, and Ennis had no intention of lying down when adversity struck.
While Ennis (1-0) fell behind 2-1 in the top of the sixth on a shocking miscue, the team’s mental toughness was evident as it quickly tied the game up and eventually won in extra innings by a 3-2 margin. North Mesquite finished with more hits (7-4) and errors (2-1). A contest filled with impressive plays, it was undoubtedly a great start to the 2009 campaign.
“I feel like [North Mesquite] could compete for a playoff spot in our district for sure, so anytime you can play really solid and beat a team like that you have to feel good about it,” said coach Rodney McNeill.
“I’m happy with our girls. Looking at the things we’ve been working on, to get a lot of that stuff on the field tonight was great to see.
“Our lefties caused some problems for [their defense], especially on the bases. That’s how we scored our runs. It was an all-around great effort.”
Brittani Zhanel (8 IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 3 W, HBP, 8 SO) hung tough through hardship against the 5A school and earned the victory. Freshman Abby Liska led Ennis with two singles, while Emily Ferguson (single, RBI) and Carli Bragg (single) also produced. Defensively, third baseman Samantha Cox was outstanding with seven outs under her belt – including a double play.
“We hit a lot of balls to them, but were able to still get on base to score a few runs,” Zhanel said.
“The defense helped me out a lot tonight and I appreciate it. We’ve been working hard in practice to make those plays.”

Runs don’t come easy
Both teams nearly went down in order in the first inning as Zhanel fanned a pair of Stallions, but Ferguson showed she couldn’t be taken lightly with a ground single to right field.
“That showed we could hit off their pitcher and we weren’t scared,” Emily said.
While Cox registered her second out in as many innings during the Stallion second, first baseman Ferguson laid out for a fantastic over-the-shoulder foul grab to get her team off the field.
“I had my eyes set on the ball and when I do I go for it no matter what,” Ferguson said.
“I was pretty proud of that one. I was really nervous the first game I took over at first [base], but I’m more comfortable there now until Whitney [Quick] comes back.”
“I thought that ball was going to get down, but Emily just didn’t give up on it,” McNeill added.
In the Stallion third, the leadoff batter smacked a line single to right field. She tried to turn it into a double, however, and Madalyn Zapletal fired the ball to second baseman Hannah Farris for an out on the tag. Zhanel then sat the next two batters down.
“Madalyn came up big to cut that girl down at second base,” McNeill said.
In the Ennis third, leadoff hitter Farris reached base on a fielding error. The sophomore stole second base and advanced to third on a Bragg sac bunt. A passed ball couldn’t have come at a better time and Hannah headed home for a 1-0 advantage.
During the Stallion fourth, the leadoff batter capitalized on Ennis’ lone error. A walk and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs, but Cox was a machine on this night with her second out of the inning. Liska smacked a two-out single up the middle in the bottom of the inning only to be thrown out stealing second.
Both defenses continued to cruise until adversity struck for Ennis in the Stallion sixth. Zhanel came up with a strikeout after allowing consecutive singles, but the next batter connected on an RBI single to tie the game (1-1). The play remained alive, and the lead North Mesquite runner unbelievably came home to score (1-2) after catcher Liska threw the ball back to Zhanel.
“Abby will learn a lot this year and she’ll learn from that play,” the coach said.
“Their girl just stayed off the base and started walking home when Abby threw it [to Brittani]. Then she took off with Brittani’s back turned and we didn’t communicate soon enough.”
A single to center field later in the inning looked to put the visitors up 3-1, but outfielder Heather Fincher fired a strike to the plate and the tag by Liska kept Ennis within a single run to end the threat.
“Those hits were on me,” McNeill said of the four Stallion hits in the sixth.
“Early in the game, we pitched heavy inside with the screwball and dropball. All of their hits came on changeups and curveballs. I was the one to go away from the screwball when it was working for Brittani, but we went back to it to finish the game.
“[North Mesquite] never changed what they were doing [offensively], so I shouldn’t have made Brittani change. She did a good job of recovering and pitched well tonight, plus the defense stepped up when she needed some help.”
As for the play at the plate, Fincher and McNeill shared a light-hearted moment when she came off the field.
“I tell the outfielders they may only get one chance per game to make a play,” the coach said.
“When Heather got to the dugout, she said ‘Coach, I made my one play.’ She was pretty fired up and I had to smile about that. She and Carli will only get better out there.”

Ennis meets adversity head-on
In the Ennis sixth, McNeill’s crew needed to answer quickly. Leading off, Bragg came up with a key bunt single on a full count. She stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice by Fincher.
As a sophomore, Ferguson has already developed a clutch reputation and she showed why with an RBI sac fly to left field. Granted, most players would’ve been in for a close play at the plate, but Bragg isn’t most players and she flew in ahead of the throw (2-2).
“I really wanted to get on base, but as long as we get an RBI it’s all good,” Ferguson said.
“If we can just force teams to pitch to Emily with a runner on, we have a great chance to score,” McNeill added.
“I’d hate to try to pitch to her right now because her plate coverage is so good. You don’t normally go [home] on that [fly] and Carli left [third] a little bit late, but it wasn’t even a close play.
“As you see her in game situations, I’m just now realizing how fast Carli is to outrun the play like that. She did some things that really impressed me with her as a ballplayer.”
While Zhanel opened the Stallion seventh with a strikeout and a walk, North Mesquite wouldn’t threaten long as Cox snared a bunt in the air and fired a strike to Ferguson to double off the runner.
“Samantha was in competition for a position when she came in this year, but after what she’s done to solidify third base it makes us a stronger team,” McNeill said.
“She’s played at a high level from day one out here.”
The Lady Lions didn’t score in their seventh, but it wasn’t from lack of effort on Liska’s part as she led off with another single up the middle and made it as far as third via a steal along the way.
“We’re working a lot on hitting up the middle in practice and that’s where Abby smoked both of those balls tonight,” McNeill said.
“She looks confident at the plate.”
Though the Stallions opened the eighth with their lone extra-base hit (double), that would be all as Fincher and Farris caught fly balls and Zhanel registered her eighth strikeout.
“I struggled a little bit in the sixth, but I tried to put everything I had into it after that to keep [North Mesquite] from scoring again,” Zhanel said.
In the Ennis eighth, Bragg drew a one-out walk off a full count.
After stealing second, Carli proceeded to steal third and the errant throw to get her went into left field. With her wheels, it was game over without a doubt to the thrill of the home fans (3-2).
“[North Mesquite] was a good team and they stayed with us for a long time,” Zhanel said.
“It’s great to start the season with a win.”
Ennis faced Cedar Hill on Saturday and the results of that contest will appear in Tuesday Sports. The Lady Lions open district play on Tuesday at home with a 7 p.m. ballgame against Waco High.
“We were missing some RBI power without Kaitlyn [Colunga] and Whitney,” McNeill said.
“For the girls to figure out a different way to win was pretty special. I hope they see the potential on this team.”

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Posted by on Feb 23 2009. Filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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