Cat Clash Classic: East sweeps Plano in dramatic 8-7 fashion
Tuesday night's softball game between Plano East (11-2 in district) and Plano Senior (11-2) had to unfold the way it did.
With two intra-city squads battling for first place in District 8-5A in front of a standing room only crowd and both ranked top 20 by the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (Lady Panthers at No. 15 and Lady Wildcats at No. 17), it seemed only logical the game would be up for grabs until the final pitch.
That final pitch came from East senior Holly Kern with Plano senior Katie Hart hitting a flare toward shallow center that Lady Panthers senior Rachel Scott had to hustle to track down, preventing the tying run from scoring and securing an 8-7 victory.
"It really did have to play out like this," said Karen Kalhoefer, East head coach. "Why else would we be where we are, No. 1 and 2 in the district?"
Plano head coach Cynthia Zea concurred.
"Another epic game between these two teams," she said. "It almost feels like, 'been there, done that,' but it was a great game and we love to play great teams."
The game was back and forth much of the night.
"These are two equally matched teams," Kalhoefer said, "so what it really came down to was who could get the key hit."
East junior KK Stevens got the key hit Tuesday ... twice.
Plano got out to a 2-0 lead following an RBI single from senior Jill Holub in the first inning and RBI sac fly from junior Julia Knight in the second. East struck back in the third.
The Lady Panthers put a run on the board despite not getting a ball into the outfield thanks to infield singles by junior Ashley Hinshaw, sophomore Haley Wisdom, senior Chandler Cink and a walk to Scott. East cleared the bases shortly thereafter as Stevens belted a a grand slam to make it 5-2.
"I've had plenty of at-bats against [Plano senior pitcher Kat Batey]; I know she works in and out and that when she gets ahead in the count, she goes up," Stevens said. "I wasn't trying to hit a home run; I was just trying to score some of our runners."
That only provided temporary breathing room.
In the top of the fourth, as they are known to do, the Lady Wildcats rallied.
"There is so much heart in this team," Zea said. "They never give up and that's why I always say I'll go with this team any time and take my chances."
Plano showed why in the fourth as it drew even, 5-5, following a 2-RBI triple to left by senior Kristen Miles and an RBI single from Holub.
"We knew Plano was going to keep coming," Kalhoefer said. "That team is full of seniors so you know they aren't going to quit."
With the game tied, East had to call on Stevens again.
And Stevens was again happy to oblige with an RBI single that put the Lady Panthers back in front, 6-5.
"Who did I say I wanted up in a position like that," Kalhoefer said, to which Stevens smiled and said, "me."
"They were playing back to the fence and I was able to muscle my way through an inside pitch," Stevens added.
From there, East added two-out RBI singles from juniors Jacque Anthony and Sarah Morales. After a dismal showing with runners in scoring position Friday against Flower Mound, East scored seven of its eight runs against Plano with two outs.
"What do you think we've been working on in practice," Kalhoefer said.
With another three-run cushion in tow, East still had to withstand a heart-stopping top of the seventh in which the presumptive third out was dropped, Plano got RBI hits from senior Erin Lowell, junior Calli Irvin and the Lady Wildcats had the potential game-winning run on at first base.
This all before Scott's lunging catch ended the game with East on top, 8-7.
"This was absolutely a playoff game," Kalhoefer said. "There was a big crowd, people screaming throughout and everyone thinking the game is won, only it's not until the final strike. It was a battle to the end and I'm just glad Rachel was able to get on her horse and get that last out."
East and Plano are now tied atop 8-5A with the Lady Panthers holding the tiebreaker courtesy of their series sweep. The Lady Panthers look to secure the No. 1 seed at 7 p.m. Friday when they travel to Lewisville while Plano hosts Plano West at the same time.
"It's our Senior Night, so that will be big for us," Zea said. "And Plano-West is always a good game, so it will be a good tune-up for the playoffs."