By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
GEORGETOWN — When it comes to winning playoff softball games, there aren’t too many better teams than the McKinney Boyd Lady Broncos.
With a 6-4 win over the No. 5 state-ranked The Woodlands Lady Highlanders on Thursday night, Boyd improved to 7-0 in the postseason and took a 1-0 lead in the UIL Class 5A Region II semifinal best-of-3 series.
The two teams began play with the sun setting behind the left field wall at Eastview High School in Georgetown, a school that opened its doors in 2008. In the circle, the Lady Broncos would start sophomore Erin Riding, who had allowed two runs in the first six playoff games. Opposing her for The Woodlands would be sophomore Abby Langkamp, who came in with a 20-4 record with a 1.25 ERA.
Despite the marquee pitching matchup, baserunners were plentiful and the Lady Broncos won with their bats. Boyd finished with 10 hits and struck out just two times, meaning that the ball was in play a lot for The Woodlands defense, which committed four errors in the game.
“When we put the ball in play we make opportunities, so that is huge,” said Boyd head coach Moe Fritz.
The first three innings showed a different kind of game shaping up. Neither team could score in the first inning, but the Lady Broncos broke through in the bottom of the second after a single and an error by sophomore shortstop Aubrey Leach put runners at second and first with one out.
After a Robyn Black groundout to third, senior Mo McDonald slapped the first pitch she saw past the diving glove of second baseman Alyssa Jorgensen and into center field for an RBI single. The second base runner would cross the plate after a wild pitch by Langkamp, giving Boyd an early 2-0 advantage.
But like all good teams, The Woodlands would bounce back quickly. Using aggressive base running and going deep in counts, the Lady Highlanders scored three in the top of the third to take their first lead of the night. The Woodlands stole five bases in the inning, as the Lady Highlanders would steal a total of eight bases in the game.
Fortunately for the fans of the blue and red, the Lady Broncos would come out swinging in the bottom half of the third inning. Following a Jill Nicklas single, sophomore McKenna Henry stroked a RBI double down the left field line to score Jill all the way from first base, tying the game at 3-3. The double also chased Langkamp from the game and brought in junior Caitlin Bartsch to the circle. Langkamp finished the game allowing two earned runs and would pick up her fifth loss of the season in the circle.
Boyd added a run in the fifth inning on an RBI double by sophomore Bailey-Jo Jones, scoring junior Maddy VonHagel from second base. Jones would be thrown out at third trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
Riding would run into some trouble in the top of the sixth after a one out walk to Brittany Kellett gave Kaitlyn Stavinoha a chance to hit. Despite batting ninth in the batting order, the Lady Highlanders third baseman slapped a ball weakly up the middle that trickled into centerfield, allowing Kellett to score from second base and cutting the Boyd lead to 5-4.
Even with a pitcher like Riding, the Lady Broncos were content on adding an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. After recording two outs on just two pitches, Bartsch appeared as if she would cruise through the frame. But an error on Jorgensen at second base off the bat of Black and a single by McDonald kept the inning alive, giving sophomore Cassandra Heller the opportunity to hit with two outs. The Lady Bronco second baseman wouldn’t have a long at-bat, crushing the 1-1 pitch for an RBI double that scored Molly Stephenson, who came in to pinch-run for Black.
After the game Fritz admired her offense’s ability to be productive against a quality opponent, but was ready to turn her attention to game two on Friday night.
“I thought it was a good game offensively for us,” said Fritz. “We picked it up when we needed to defensively, but I want to see us dominate and clean up our defense a little more. They are a really good team. They are quick and fast and are going to make things happen. It is just very good competition. I am happy but ready to put this game behind us. I am ready to tweak some things that we need to clean up on.”
Despite allowing a base runner in the top of the seventh, Riding was able to keep The Woodlands off the scoreboard to hold on to the 6-4 win. Riding struck out 11 batters and allowed five hits, scattering five walks across seven innings. The sophomore pitcher admired her teammates after the game and commended their ability to “pick her up” after the early struggles, and said she learned some things about the Lady Highlander hitters that she can use for the game two start tomorrow.
“I learned that they like to play some short game,” said Riding. “I figured it out from the very first runner. I learned that they like to hit the outside pitch and I need to bust them inside.”
“I thought she stayed composed and in her game,” said Fritz, in regards to her starting pitchers performance. “I want to see her dominate even more tomorrow, and I think that she can. I don’t know what to say about Erin. She gets better every time she goes out, and she takes stuff away from every game she is in. So she will learn from this game and use it for tomorrow.”
Boyd will go for the series win Friday night in game two of the best-of-3 series, beginning at 5:30 p.m. If The Woodlands wins, the deciding game three would begin around 8 p.m.