GONZALES — The postgame tears and somber Ascension Christian clubhouse suggested one thing. The future of the Lady Lions’ program indicates another.
Ascension Christian’s six-year-old softball program turned another corner this season, hosting its first state playoff game. But it will have to wait another year to achieve the next step in their growth with their first postseason victory.
No. 19 Merryville erased a two-run deficit by exploding for six runs in the third inning and scored three more times to pull away for an 11-6 victory Monday over No. 14 Ascension Christian in a Class 1A bidistrict contest.
“For us to host was a big deal to us,” said Ascension Christian coach Jessica Cooper, whose team finished 16-13. “I’m proud of them regardless. Softball’s a game of failure. You win some, you lose some. I hate that we lost this one, but I’m proud of all they’ve done. It’s another step in our program. It’s a positive light.”
Merryville (10-10) earned a home regional playoff game later this week against third-seeded Ascension Catholic, a 4-0 winner over No. 30 Highland Baptist.
The Panthers were eliminated by the Bulldogs 1-0 in last year’s regional round.
“The girls played hard,” Merryville coach Floyd Stark said. “It’s Easter (break), and there’s a lot of stuff going on. Sometimes when two teams are pretty equal, it’s the team that stays focused.”
Because of a state semifinal run in basketball, Merryville was without eight players — including four starters — until the start of the District 4-1A softball season.
For the first time this season, the Panthers, who began 0-3, reached the .500 mark after winning four of their past five games.
“Our record’s a little deceiving,” Stark said. “We’ve had to play up (in classification), but we’ve stayed healthy and are hitting the ball up and down the lineup.”
First baseman Caitlin Bateman (3-for-4) led a Merryville offense that generated 10 hits and took a 2-0 lead in the first on back-to-back run-producing hits — a single from Bateman and a double to left-center from Peyton Cournoyer.
Ascension Christian starting pitcher Ally Cambre got out of further trouble with a strikeout and groundout, and the Lady Lions answered with four runs in their half of the inning.
Aleah Sanchez scored on a wild pitch, and Ascension Christian took a 3-2 lead on Cambre’s infield single and a throwing error on the same play. Another error resulted in the inning’s final run.
Winning pitcher Hannah Egan settled down, allowing four of her nine hits over the next five innings. She kept Ascension Christian scoreless until the seventh when the Lions scored twice, including Savoy’s RBI single. She walked four and struck out 10 in a 155-pitch outing.
Savoy and Maddy Kohan each had two hits for the Lions.
Merryville batted around in the third against Cambre, scoring six times on five hits to open an 8-4 lead. A two-run single up the middle from Brey Hooper (2-4, 5 RBIs) gave the Panthers the lead for good (5-4) and a pair of errors accounted for two more runs along with a bases-loaded walk.
Hooper punctuated the victory with a bases-clearing double in the sixth after Cambre had retired the first two batters in the inning.
“We told the girls to step up and carry on what these seniors did,” said Cooper, whose loses three senior starters. “They were here for four years and have gotten us here to a home playoff game. Now we’ve got to build on that and keep going.”