By TJ MAXWELL
Fresh off a playoff-clinching win over Harker Heights, the Copperas Cove Lady Dawgs softball team put together a near perfect game to defeat the Killeen Lady Kangaroos 9-2 and take sole possession of third place with one game remaining.
“Even though we clinched, we’re still in a battle for third place with Central,” said Cove head coach Bryan Waller, “We had to have this game to ensure a chance at that.
“They lost to Midway today so we’re one ahead of them. Stranger things have happened. If we can get a win at Belton then we’ll be in third but we had to have this one to even have that chance.”
Everyone got involved in the win as Cove got a combined 13 hits from 10 different batters and senior pitcher Elana Montanez was on pace for a shutout until a passed ball on a third strike allowed Destiny Allen to reach and eventually score on a single by Allison Fox.
“That’s what we needed,” said Waller. “We need to be more consistent hitting. Hitting is contagious and we did a good job of hitting where they weren’t and capitalizing on their mistakes.”
Friday’s hero - Jayda Carter - who hit a three-run home run to close out their win of Harker Heights, was 3 for 4 with two runs and an RBI to lead the Lady Dawgs to victory again Tuesday night at home.
“She’s looking pretty good at the plate,” Waller said of his sophomore hitting-leader. “She’s one of the captains on our team and she tries to do a good job of leading by example and I push her to be more example-driven when she’s out there.
“Our team rallies around her. When she’s playing good, we tend to get more relaxed and we play a lot more at ease.”
That ease came early and often as the Lady Dawgs built a quick 7-0 lead after three innings of action.
A leadoff walk by Montanez, a single to left field by Carter and senior Peyton Choate taking a pitch to the ankle juiced the bases with one out for Cove after a four-up, three-down top of the first inning for Killeen.
An RBI single by freshman Jackie Clay and a two RBI blooper single to shallow centerfield by senior Riley Collier plated all three base runners to give the Dawgs a solid start.
The Lady Roos threatened to begin the second inning with singles by Hailey Pitts and Ashley Frans putting two runners on but a Montanez strikeout against Killeen’s Dominique Cox and a groundout to Cove catcher Riley Radigan by Ashley Dortch ended the threat.
The Lady Dawgs added two more runs in the bottom of the second when Montanez blooped a single to the outfield and Carter hammered a stand-up triple to the right field wall to plate Montanez.
“I just felt everyone’s energy,” Carter said of her 3 for 4 night. “We’ve been doing a lot of work in the cages work on hand-to-eye coordination and seeing the ball and it transitioned to the field.”
Choate then contributed an RBI single up the middle to score Carter and give the Lady Dawgs a commanding 5-0 lead.
After another four-up, three-down at bat by the Lady Roos, the Lady Dawgs took advantage of some Killeen miscues to plate two more runners.
A fielder’s choice off the bat of junior Addie Cook and a passed ball got a runner in scoring position for Cove before an RBI single by freshman Nazhoni Wyss and an error on Killeen second baseman Oslyn Rodriguez off the bat of Montanez allowed the runs to score. Another blooper single to left field by Carter put two more runners on for Cove by an infield fly out stopped the Lady Dawgs at just two runs.
Both teams went down in order for a quick fourth inning and more Killeen miscues helped the Lady Dawgs plate their final two runs in the top of the fifth.
A leadoff single by Cook and a fielding error by Killeen’s Fox allowed another runner in scoring position and a throwing error on Killeen shortstop Tanjala Smith allowed senior Alyssa Douglas to reach and Cook to race home for a 8-0 Cove lead.
After Montanez was thrown out at second after reaching on a walk and Douglas reached third on a double steal attempt, the Lady Dawgs had the opportunity to put the game away when Douglas scored on another passed ball to put the Lady Dawgs one run away from a mercy-rule win.
A pair of singles by Kristen Wasiak and Choate, along with a fielder’s choice by Carter, again put runners in scoring position but a groundout to third by Clay kept the Lady Roos alive.
A 4-6-3 double play started by second baseman Cook and finished by shortstop Clay to first baseman Collier kept the Lady Roos from getting back into it in the sixth inning, but the Allen passed ball and Fox single broke Montanez’s shutout opportunity and a triple by Smith then plated Fox for the final Killen run.
Montanez then struck out Kiara Dominguez for the final out and her 11th K of the game.
The win gave the Lady Dawgs (16-10-1, 8-5 in District 8-6A) sole possession of third place in front of San Angelo Central (13-14, 7-6).
“It was highly important to get this win because we don’t want to finish in fourth and have to face the first seed,” said Carter.
Montanez (1 for 2, 2R, 2BB), Wasiak (1 for 4), Choate (2 for 3, R, RBI, HBP), Clay (1 for 4, RBI), Radigan (1 for 4), Collier (1 for 2, 2RBI), Cook (1 for 3, 2R, BB) and Wyss (1 for 2, R, RBI) added to Carter’s 3 for 4 night accounted for the 13 Cove hits.
Smith (2 for 4, RBI) Pitts (1 for 3), Franz (1 for 1) and Fox (1 for 2, RBI) accounted for the five Killeen hits.
Montanez picked up the complete-game win with four free bases to go with her 11 strikeouts. McKenzie Kudlow suffered the loss for Killeen.
An upset win over the no. 15 ranked Belton Lady Tigers tonight in Belton or a loss by Central to Shoemaker (1-12) would clinch the third spot for the Lady Dawgs but a loss by Cove and win by Central would force a tie for third between the two teams.
“We have a good team we’re playing on Friday,” said Waller. “If Belton loses, they’re in second so it’s not a meaningless game. We just need to do what we can, put the ball and play and see what happens. If we win we’re third and if they lose they are second.”
Waller also knows this is a good litmus test for his team facing off against the playoff-caliber Belton Lady Tigers (23-5, 12-1) right before the playoff get underway.
“That’s pretty much the way I’m looking at it,” he said. “It’s pretty much a warm-up game. It’s going to be a playoff-type mentality. It’s also a good change of pace being able to play Belton at the end of the year.”