Heritage junior Kamryn Toney struck out 14 Lanier batters and allowed just three hits over nine innings. But, it was two consecutive wild pitches by Longhorns' pitcher Cameron Dillard in the bottom of the ninth inning that allowed the Patriots to escape with a 3-2 victory at home.
With the win, Heritage improved its record to 14-2, 5-1 in Region 8-AAAAA. Lanier fell to 10-9, 3-3 in region play.
"Every region game is big. We don't take anybody lightly," Patriots coach Jason McBay said. "They're (Lanier) new to our region, but familiar in their coach, Ryan Hill, who was an assistant at Apalachee. We knew they'd be solid, defensively. We knew they weren't going to beat themselves, and they were exactly (who) we thought (they'd be)."
Longhorns catcher Maygan Loparo led off the game with an infield hit, just beating the throw of Patriots third baseman Ta'lor Bynum to first base. Centerfielder Isabelle Petty tried to bunt Loparo to second, but she popped up to Toney. Loparo was leaning towards second on the play, and Toney threw a bullet to first baseman Destiny Herrera to double up Loparo off first. Toney then collected the first of her 14 strikeouts as she fanned left fielder Kristen Laughlin for the third out.
Dillard got the Patriots in order in the bottom of the first. And, Toney returned the favor in the top of the second inning.
Heritage had a scoring chance in the home half of the second. Toney, who has verbally committed to play softball for the University of Central Florida, hit a one-out single. Glory Seay was brought in as a courtesy runner, but Seay was thrown out trying to steal second. The caught stealing was especially unfortunate as the next batter, second baseman Paige Owens, smacked a two-out double off the left-field fence that probably would've scored Seay. Owens moved to third on a Dillard wild pitch, but Bynum popped out to Laughlin to end the scoring threat.
Toney struck out the side in the third inning, and had four more strikeouts in the fourth and fifth innings to give her 10 through five innings. Dillard, who was backed up by excellent fielding, was equally effective as she held the Patriots offense scoreless through five innings.
Lanier, however, got on the scoreboard in the top of the sixth inning.
Dillard popped up a bunt attempt, but Patriots catcher Morgan Whiten dropped the ball allowing Dillard to reach first base on the error. Then, Whiten tried to pick Dillard off first. The ball got past Herrera, and Dillard moved to second base. Loparo followed with an RBI single to give the Longhorns a 1-0 lead.
Heritage went down in order in the bottom of the sixth, and Toney retired the Longhorns in order in the top of the seventh inning.
Trailing 1-0, and down to their last three outs, the Patriots needed someone to step up.
Herrera stepped up as she led off with a crisp single. Speedster Jordan Browning was put in as a pinch runner for Herrera. Browning stole second, and Toney laid down a nice sacrifice bunt to move Browning to third base. Owens walked to put runners on the corners with one out. Bynum, however popped out to the shortstop, and the Patriots were down to their final out as designated player Germecia Joseph stepped to the plate. Joseph laced Dillard's first pitch into left field, driving in Browning and tying the game 1-1. Left fielder Lakaitlen Barney grounded out pitcher-to-first to end the inning, but Heritage had new life as the game went to extra innings.
In girl's high school softball games that go to extra innings, each team starts with a runner on second base - usually the player who made the final out in the previous inning.
Lanier second baseman Julianna Garcia made the final out in the seventh inning, so she was put on second as the inning began.
Third baseman Taylor Rove tried to bunt Garcia to third, but Whiten made up for her sixth-inning throwing error with a great catch of Rove's pop-bunt. Dillard grounded out shortstop to first base. Garcia advanced third on the throw to first base. But, first baseman Herrera made an ill-advised throw to third trying to catch Garcia. The ball got past third baseman Bynum, and Garcia scored to put the Longhorns up 2-1. Toney struck out right fielder Savannah Cowdry to end the inning.
With Barney on second to start the bottom of the eighth inning, leadoff hitter Barker lined out to second. Shortstop Ally Allegretti grounded out to first base, but Barney was able to advance to third base. So, for the second time in two innings, Heritage was down to its final out. Whiten got the run back she had given to Lanier in the sixth inning with a solid single to score Barney and knot the score at 2-2. Herrera grounded out pitcher-to-first to end the inning.
With Cowdry on second base, Loparo bunted her to third. Petty came to the plate and tried a squeeze bunt, but missed the ball. Cowdry, who had broken for home, was caught in no-man's land. Whiten smartly threw the ball to Allegretti, who was covering third, and Allegretti ran down Cowdry for the second out. Toney struck out Petty to end the inning with the score still tied 2-2.
With Jordan Browing at second pinch-running again for Herrera, and Toney at bat, Dillard immediately threw a wild pitch, which allowed Browning to move to third base. Her next pitch was a ball. But, when she threw a second wild pitch, Browning broke for home. Catcher Loparo tossed the ball to Dillard, who was covering home plate, but Browning slid in under the tag to give Heritage the pulsating 3-2 victory.