After the start of her softball team’s state semifinal was delayed by more than hour, Hays junior shortstop Maddy Shannon wasted no time giving her teammates something to cheer about Friday.
Shannon led off the first inning with a sharp single to right and scooted to third base when the ball went through the legs of Aledo right fielder Tori Gore. Shannon later scored on a sacrifice fly, and the quick start appeared to inspire the Lady Rebels, who went on to an 8-1 victory over Aledo at McCombs Field.
Hays (31-10) advanced to play Lucas Lovejoy for the Class 4A championship at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Shannon said her first-inning hit “gave everybody confidence” the Lady Rebels would win. “It’s like my grandma (Joy Shannon) always says, I have to be the spark,” she added.
Hays scored in each of the first four innings, rocking Aledo starter Lauren Craine, who entered the state tournament with a 30-2 record this season.
The Lady Rebels hardly looked like a team making its state tournament debut while snapping Aledo’s 24-game winning streak. Junior pitcher Sarah Leal, the catalyst behind Hays’ playoff run, limited Aledo to five hits.
“I wanted our players to be happy about being here because they should be happy being here,” said Hays coach Aaron Fuller, “but we didn’t come here just satisfied to play. We’ve got more work to do.”
Fuller said Shannon’s single in the first inning was one of the game’s pivotal moments. He urged the Lady Rebels to “hit on top of the ball” and put pressure on Aledo’s defense with line drives.
Shannon and right fielder Brayden Pinckard had two hits apiece to lead Hays’ 10-hit attack. Six different Lady Rebels recorded RBIs, including two apiece by second baseman Addie Vayas and designated player Karina Rocha.
The most majestic shot of the overcast afternoon was provided by Hays first baseman Clarissa Gonzalez, whose home run in the third inning sailed high and deep over the right-field fence.
While her teammates provided plenty of offensive pop, Leal was stellar in the circle, striking out eight and allowing one unearned run. Aledo used a single by second baseman Rhylie Makave, a wild pitch and an infield error in the fourth to score its lone run.
Fuller said it seemed as though “the entire town of Buda” was in attendance Friday, and he predicted “all of Hays County” will be on hand for Saturday’s Class 4A final.
“Our fans make a big difference,” Leal said. “Especially when they start yelling ‘Let’s go Re-bels! … Let’s go Re-bels.’ That’s our pride and joy.”
After Shannon scored for the 1-0 lead, the Lady Rebels added two runs in the second inning on a sharp single to right by Rocha. Hays put the game out of reach with three runs in the fourth, highlighted by a two-run single to center by Vayas.
This marked just the fourth time in 44 games this season that Aledo (40-4) gave up as many as seven runs.
The game started an hour and 15 minutes later than scheduled because the preceding 4A semifinal between Lovejoy and Richmond Foster lasted 12 innings. But it didn’t take Hays long, particularly with Shannon’s help, to get on the fast track to the title game.