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Lady Dogs historic season ends short of championship

It was the matchup that most had talked about all season, No. 1 versus No. 2. And the only difference between the top two Class 2A teams in Texas was one swing of the bat.  

That is all it took by Crawford’s Mackenzie Dunbar to push across the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat the Thorndale Lady Dogs on Thursday in the Class 2A State Softball Championship.

The Lady Pirates came from behind to defeat Thorndale 8-7 at Red and Charline McCombs Field on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

It was the first time any Thorndale girls team had played in a State Championship game.

This was the second straight state title for Crawford (36-6) and the third in school history.  Lady Dogs assistant coach Cheyenne Lynch played on the 2012 Crawford team that won the 2A state title that season.

The Lady Pirates also had to come from behind to defeat West Sabine 6-5 in their state semifinal matchup on Wednesday morning.

Thorndale was on a 25-game winning streak, before falling in the state championship.

Four Lady Dogs were named to the state all-tournament team.  They were Madison Kelm, Kelsey Kovar, Emilee Baker and Jayci Martinka.

Thorndale head coach Lance Betak knew that this group of girls had a good chance to go very far and they proved him right.

“Everyone thought this team had a chance to be special. Sometimes it is hard to meet expectations but these girls went above and beyond what everyone thought they could accomplish. We played very well from the start of the season to the end,” Coach Betak said. “We had such a strong team in all three phases of the game. Our pitching and defense were always solid, and everyone in our lineup could come up with a big hit anytime we needed it.”

In the state title game on Thursday, the Lady Dogs showed a little bit of uncharacteristic nerves, but nothing they had not been able to shake off in the past.

Thorndale actually got on the board first when Emilee Baker scored from third on a two-out single by Kelsey Kovar.

Crawford answered with three runs in the bottom of the fourth on back-to-back-to-back singles, going up 3-1.

The Lady Dogs had three batters hit by pitches in the top of the fifth.  That, along with timely Thorndale hitting pushed the Lady Dogs to a 7-4 advantage.  Riley White, Kelsey Kovar, Ashton Kiesling and Madison Kelm all had hits in the frame.

The Lady Pirates capitalized on Thorndale defensive miscues and put up four to tie the game at 7-7 in the bottom of the sixth.

The Lady Dogs did not get a hit after the fifth inning.

With two outs and two runners on, Dunbar connected on a 1-1 pitch that hit the left field fence, scoring the winning run.

Dunbar was named the tournament’s MVP and was also the winning pitcher.  She allowed one hit and two runs over three and two-thirds innings, striking out four and walking one. 

Cambree Aguirre started the game in the circle for Crawford, surrendering five runs on six hits in four and one-third innings of work.

White was on the mound for the Lady Dogs, pitching the entire game, allowing nine hits and eight runs, while striking out five Lady Pirates.

Thorndale connected on seven hits, but made five errors.

Crawford put together nine hits and had one error.

Kovar and Kelm were both two-for-four in the game, with Kovar knocking in three runs and scoring one herself, and Kelm recording two RBIs.

Baker and Kiesling also recorded a hit, with Baker crossing home plate twice.

White collected and RBI, with Jayci Martinka, Kate Casey, Lauren Newton and Hannah Laurence scoring a run apiece.

Coach Betak said the entire season has been about playing as a team, working as a team and winning as a team.  Those elements made a difference in the success of this team over teams of the past, and have also set a new bar for future squads.

“The girls were all so supportive of one another and were always positive influences on one another. That is what set this group apart from other great teams,” Coach Betak said. “The girls were all more concerned about the success of the team over their own individual success. Getting to the state tournament was an amazing accomplishment and set the tone for years to come.”

To get to the state title game Thorndale blanked Windthorst 10-0 in the state semifinals on Wednesday, with Riley White pitching her 12th shutout of the season.

Windthorst was at the school’s fifth state softball appearance in program history.

Thorndale jumped out to an 8-0 after the bottom of the first, something they were known to do this season.   They added one more in the third and the final run in the bottom of the fifth to run rule the Trojanettes 10-0.

The final run came when Emilee Baker tripled down the left field line to push across the tenth run.  She was three for four in the contest, with four RBIs, a double and a triple.

The Lady Dogs connected for nine hits.   Windthorst (32-7) managed just one hit on the afternoon.

Madison Flores, Jayci Martinka, Kelsey Kovar, Kate Casey, Jacey Paulsen and Madison Kelm each recorded a hit in the game, with Flores recording a double.

Ashton Kiesling, Ava Vicknair and Amber Dee all scored a run, with Kiesling adding an RBI.

The semifinal double-digit win was the ninth time Thorndale put up double figures in their playoff run.

Riley White struck out seven, walked two and allowed just one hit. The one hit was a double.

Laynie Brown absorbed the loss for Windthorst, with one strike out.

Thorndale was 11-1 in its postseason run and outscored opponents in those seven rounds 133-28.

Senior members on this year’s roster included Madison Flores, Madison Kelm, Ashton Kiesling, Hannah Laurence, and Lauren Newton.

No Thorndale girls athletic team has ever won a state title.

Only two other Lady Dog teams have ever reached a State Tournament prior to this spring -- the 2008 girls basketball team and the 2018 volleyball team last fall.

The Cameron Herald

The Cameron Herald
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