Holy Savior Menard exacted some strongly desired revenge on Tuesday.
Menard, which has been eliminated in the playoffs by Evangel two of the past four years, knocked off the No. 1-ranked team in Class 3A, 3-2, on Tuesday.
Junior Kayla Busby and freshman Jensen Howell combined on a three-hitter with 11 strikeouts to lead Menard (13-7), which is ranked third in the Class 2A power ratings, past Evangel. Busby (5-2) started the game and threw the first 4 1/3 innings, allowing two runs, before giving way to Howell, who entered with two runners on in the fifth inning and Menard clinging to a 3-2 lead.
Whitney Usie, Evangel’s No. 9 hitter, reached on a fielding error before shortstop Shelby Salley singled to left to put runners on first and second with only one out. That’s when Menard coach Erica Harwell called on Howell in relief.
“It was nerve-wracking, kind of,” Howell admitted. “When I go up there, I just believe in myself and know my teammates are behind me.”
She didn’t really need those teammates, though. Howell struck out the next two batters to end Evangel’s threat and sat Evangel (14-6) down in order the final two innings. Only one batter reached base on an error in the sixth inning, but Menard catcher Natalie Seeser ended that threat by throwing out the runner attempting to steal second.
Howell struck out six of the eight batters she faced in the game.
“She’s our speedster — that’s what she’s known for,” Harwell said of Howell’s velocity. “She’s confident with that role. She wants to go in there and blow it by her.”
After Evangel took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, Menard answered right back in the bottom half of the inning. Seeser struck out to lead off the inning, but she reached first base when the third strike was a passed ball. After Howell walked with one out, both runners advanced on a passed ball and Seeser scored on a wild pitch.
Evangel regained the lead in the third inning on an RBI groundout by second baseman Emily Deramus, but Menard took the lead for good in the fourth inning. Tara McVay’s RBI double to right-center scored Busby to tie the game, while left fielder Madalyn Mahfouz scored McVay on an RBI single.
Menard had chances over the final two innings to stretch its lead, but Evangel made several outstanding defensive plays to keep Menard off the scoreboard. In the end, though, the one-run lead was enough with Howell in the circle.
Maddie Smith was the only Menard player with multiple hits in the game, finishing with two infield singles, while Deramus had a double and a run scored for the Lady Eagles.
Evangel coach Meghan Fisher said her team had chances to tie the game or take the lead but couldn’t come through with timely hits.
“I think we missed some opportunities when we had runners on base,” she said.
Harwell, meanwhile, said her team came out focused to send a message that Menard is a team to reckon with in 2014.
“It’s not a matter of where we are today,” she said. “It’s a matter of having a little bit of pride. We wanted to say we’re a better team than that team over there, which is a good team.”