HILLSBORO — Blayne McGhee entered the game with uncertainty in her mind, but with one swing of the bat, she regained her confidence.
After playing the regular-season finale more than a week ago and having limited time to practice because of the regional track and field meet, Gatesville’s sophomore catcher had no idea what to expect when she stepped to the plate during the Class 3A bi-district playoff game against Stephenville.
But with a pair of runners on base in the bottom of the first inning, McGhee sent the first pitch she received over the right-field wall, triggering an avalanche of Hornet hits as Gatesville earned a 7-4 victory against the Honeybees on Monday evening.
“I haven’t touched a softball since Tuesday,” McGhee said. “So I came in thinking, ‘How is this going to be?’ But I just relaxed and thought I could do it, and I did it.”
Three batters later, teammate McKenzie Winkler hit a two-run home run to center field, giving Gatesville a 5-0 lead it would not relinquish as the Hornets went on to produce 17 hits in the victory.
Gatesville’s hitting outburst followed an unusually unproductive three-hit performance against No. 2 Liberty Hill in an 8-1 loss to end District 8-3A play.
“It was nice to come back and see that we can hit the ball again,” Hornets head coach Crystal O’Brien said.
The victory propels Gatesville, which is in the postseason for the first time since 2010, into the area round of the playoffs against No. 7 Burkburnett, with the best-of-three series opening Friday at a location and time to be determined.
While the site for their next game is unknown, O’Brien is convinced her team must improve its overall play to continue its season beyond this weekend.
“We’ve got to play our best ball that we can,” the third-year coach said. “(Burkburnett) is beatable, but we can’t play like we did tonight if we want to beat them. We can’t have a bad inning.”
Against Stephenville, the Hornets gave up four runs in the top of the second inning to virtually erase the five-run cushion created off six first-inning hits.
Despite watching their lead evaporate almost entirely, Winkler knew her team would survive.
“We just couldn’t give up,” the freshman said. “(I felt if) we come back and work as a team, we can do it.”
Defensively, the Hornets (20-14) allowed only three hits as sophomore pitcher Evan Edmiston, who was called for an illegal pitch leading to one of the Honeybees’ second-inning runs, struck out seven batters en route to the victory.
“She got called for that one pitch, and I think that got in her head a little bit,” O’Brien said. “She was second guessing her pitching and herself, but she overcame that, and that is huge for a sophomore.”
McGhee (3 for 4, 3 RBIs) hit her second double of the night in the fourth inning before senior third baseman Riley Latham’s RBI single sent her home, making the score 6-4. Latham (3 for 3, 2 RBIs) then hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth inning to score Winkler (2 for 4), who reached base on a triple.
While a number of underclassmen made big plays for the Hornets, O’Brien feels the calming presence of her senior class is the reason her team had a strong finish against Stephenville (15-16-1).
“I have five seniors on the field, and they want it more than anything,” she said. “They know what happens if you don’t do your job — you go home, and they don’t want to go home for a while. They are great leaders, and they make sure everyone stays focused.”
Contact Clay Whittington at email@example.com