Woodlands softball defeats Spring, advances to area playoffs

THE WOODLANDS — Tim Borths may have a few gray hairs, but for him, it’s worth it.

“It was a big game to get us ready for the next round,” said the Woodlands softball coach. “Getting pushed, having these high-leverage scenarios, it’s only going to make us better. It’s going to give me less hair and raise my blood pressure, but for our team in the long run it will be better for all of us.

The Woodlands defeated Spring, 9-2, in Game 3 of the Region II-6A bi-district series on Saturday to advance to the region’s playoffs.

“Give all the credit to Spring,” Borths said. “Coming out of a race rule, for them to get that win last night, and even today it was a dogfight there. Until very late we didn’t open it. Thanks to Coach (Julie) Wyrick and (pitchers London) Park and (Bella) De Los Santos for keeping our hitters off balance for most of the game and pushing this to a three game streak. there’s a reason they were the No. 1 seed in their district, district champions, a proverbial program that consistently wins that district over there.

Alanna Leach’s sacrificial volley in the first set put the Highlanders up, 1-0. The Woodlands (19-13) added a point in the second when Avery Vassel’s ground player scored Victoria Serrano. First baseman Kaelyn Zusi hit a two-run homer to center in the third to extend the Highlanders’ lead to 4-0.

“Really, I was just thinking about protecting the plate,” said Zusi, who was 2 for 3 with three RBIs. “It was taking all of my at-bats this series, and kind of knowing what the pitcher is throwing, and again doing it for each other, trying to move one base at a time. When it happens, it happens.

“We’ve been working on a plan all week. It was really just sticking to our mentality of going all the way to the plate and really doing it for each other. We were exhausted at the end, but we really tried for each other and we were productive that way.

Spring (22-6) landed his first hit in the sixth when Ali Boggess singled to the right. Hernandez drove in a race with an infield grounder. Keona Jackson walked with the bases loaded to close the gap to 4-2. Reliever Chesney Davis had two strikeouts and one out with the bases still poised to end the threat.

In the bottom of the sixth, Mallory Suess kicked in a run and Alanna Leach scored two more runs to extend the Highlanders’ lead to 7-2. Zusi doubled in another run. Emma Landauer chose the Cassy Trevino house.

“We were also able to get into position with our base run,” Borths said. “Victoria Serrano did a great job of going first to third on a bunt and having a backdoor to get into it. We were able to steal some bases and put ourselves in a position to sacrifice ourselves, and those races got bigger. Cassy Trevino scored on an inside ball that was knocked down, and she was able to move around, score and extend the lead, and give us more of a cushion. Our base race was really on point today. Truly throughout the training, I would say that everyone contributed in some way today, which is what we need for our recipe for success.

The Woodlands avoided damage in the second after moving the runners to second and third. Starter Saylor Davis got a flyout to center that doubled up a runner at second. After Saylor Davis walked Hernandez with a throw into the dirt, catcher Kiara Wiedenhaupt chased the ball to the backstop and threw it to Davis, who scored a runner who broke the plate to finish the sleeve.

The Highlanders avoided more danger in the third after the Lions loaded the bases with outs. Second baseman Mallory Suess downed a runner at home plate. Wiedenhaupt appealed on a third strike in the dirt and scored the batter for the second out. Saylor Davis popped Zusi to end the round.

In the fifth, Spring had runners at second and third, but Alanna Leach kicked out a runner from right field first, and Saylor Davis got a strikeout to end the inning.

“That was one of the things that was missing last night,” Borths said. “We didn’t have a clean game in Game 2. Game 3 they really cleaned that up and executed. Kiara Wiedenhaupt behind the plate was a beast there, blocking balls and chasing balls and rushing to save runs. Our pitchers, to work base loaded jams in high leverage situations, Chesney going into this one, and Saylor earlier working in high leverage situations to get us out really unscathed until the final innings . Kudos to our defense for stepping up, for our battery there, for executing when they needed it.

Gabby Leach went 2 for 3 with a walk and two stolen bases. Alanna Leach was 2 for 3 with three RBIs. Landauer was 3 for 4 with a stolen base. Saylor Davis allowed two runs, one hit and eight walks, and had seven strikeouts in the victory. Chesney Davis worked two innings, allowing two hits, two walks and no runs, while stoking three.

“From our second game we knew we had to change our approach,” said Gabby Leach. “We struggled in attack in that second game with that change. We did a much better job today.

“I think we locked it down better today. We told each other to relax, to talk to each other. I think communication was our biggest thing. Just talking to each other and helping out our pitcher was all we needed to make those innings.

The Woodlands advance to the region’s playoffs for the fifth straight year, barring COVID 2020.

“Spring is a good team. We put everything we had there all the time,” Zusi said. “Even when we were down and really struggling, we just made sure we didn’t leave that snowball. Again, like I said, play for each other because we’ve been working for it all year.

“No limits. We are going to do well. We have worked for this.