Byrd coach Mark Lambert was still shaking his head several minutes following his team’s 4-1 loss to East Ascension on Friday in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
“We had our ticket punched,” Lambert said staring at the ground. “We were this close.”
That, the Lady Jackets were. But in the game of softball, as in the game of life, sometimes things don’t go as planned. East Ascension’s Carmisha Payton lofted a two-out Sarah Long offering over the left field wall in the top of the seventh with two Lady Spartans (24-8) aboard for the win.
“It was an 0-2 count and was supposed to be a pitchout,” Lambert said. “But Sarah pitched a heckuva game and made 150 other good pitches.”
Payton, who was almost knocked out of the game an inning earlier after a collision with Byrd’s Emily Daniel, was licking her chops when she saw the pitch come in.
“I was surprised it was as much over the inside part of the plate as it was. That’s my favorite spot,” Payton said. “I felt it was going out as soon as I hit it.”
Payton, however, should never have arrived at the plate. Byrd’s Tara Schuler and Claire Hyde couldn’t decide who should catch MacKenzie Andrews’ pop up to shallow left to open the frame. The ball tipped off Hyde’s glove and Andrews arrived safely, later scoring to tie the game at 1-1 on Verlencia Jackson’s walk.
And Byrd (21-11) made mistakes earlier in the game when three base running errors took the Lady Jackets out of potentially big innings, while the failure to execute a pair of bunts further stymied the offense.
“Still, we almost fought our way out of it,” Lambert said. “We have got to have better communication.”
Long became a dominant pitcher over the last couple weeks of the season and kept the Lady Spartans in check on Friday, despite a rough first inning. Claire Weinberger singled to open the game, Jackson was hit by a pitch and Jessie Watts walked to load the bases. But Long got a fly out from Payton, then struck out Taja Landry and Jordan Langlois to get out of the inning unscathed.
The game rocked along scoreless until the sixth when Schuler singled to open the frame and was moved over when junior Tia Timerding put down a successful bunt. Daniel then ripped a Jessie Watts pitch to left center scoring Schuler. But it wasn’t enough.
“It just wasn’t in the cards for us today,” Timerding said. “Sarah pitched an incredible game and our seniors really pulled together.”