AUSTIN — Henderson played the right tune Thursday and is one win away from its first softball state championship.
Lady Lions senior Jenna Toon singled twice and drove in two runs to lead Henderson past Liberty Hill 3-0 in their Class 3A semifinal at the University of Texas at Austin’s Red and Charline McCombs Field.
“It feels good to be an important role on the team and to be going to the championship game,” said Toon, who batted ninth in the Lady Lions lineup and entered play with a .221 average.
The top-ranked Lady Lions (30-8) will face Lufkin Hudson (35-5) in the Class 3A Final at 10 a.m. Saturday after Hudson downed West 5-2 in the day’s other semifinal. Liberty Hill completed its season with a 27-9 record.
Henderson coach Julie Murry made it to the state semifinals as a player at Slocum in 1996, but was on the wrong end of the scoreboard. Sixteen years later she has an opportunity to capture that elusive state title.
“It’s a great feeling; we feel like we’ve worked hard to get to this point and feel like we are deserving of it,” said Murry, who is in her sixth year as coach of the Lady Lions. “It’s still an honor to be here and representing our community and our region at the big show, but it’s just a game and we are trying to focus on one more game of playing it like that.”
Henderson junior Tiarra Davis limited Liberty Hill to five hits while plunking two and striking out eight in the complete-game shutout to notch her 19th win of the year. Davis also drove in a run while stranding seven Liberty Hill baserunners.
Liberty Hill had runners at third base twice in the game, once in the top of the first and again in the fifth, but both times Davis was able to keep them there.
“(Davis) gives you enough that just keeps you off balance and we prepared for her all week and she’s got a great rise and a great drop (ball),” Liberty Hill coach Charice Hankins said. “I felt like we didn’t give Henderson our best game, but Henderson definitely played great; nothing to take away from them.
“We are a better offensive team than we showed today, but today it was all about Henderson’s pitcher and she did an awesome job.”
Lady Panthers senior Kourtney Bevers took the loss, allowing three runs on 10 hits with two walks and two strikeouts. She also stranded nine Henderson baserunners.
Both pitchers were able to navigate through trouble spots in the first three innings with Henderson finally breaking through in the bottom of the fourth.
Karly Free (2 for 3, two singles) led off with a single to left field. Jessica Thomas, who came in batting .177, then delivered a bloop single to center to put two runners on with no outs. Jennifer Armstrong laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third and bring Toon to the plate.
Bevers quickly got ahead of Toon, who is a slap hitter, meaning she is in motion before the pitch arrives. Bevers tried to take advantage of that by throwing Toon a 1-2 change-up, but the senior adjusted and pulled the ball toward second base for an RBI groundout.
“I usually start my step a little bit slower in the first place,” said Toon, who beat out an infield single with a slap in her first at-bat. “That way if they throw me a change-up or something like that, I am not too far out.
“Coach Murry just told me that even if they throw me a change-up to keep going at my normal speed and not slow down because that really messes you up.”
With their noses finally in front, the Lady Lions doubled the advantage when Davis singled to score courtesy runner Jaci Hurt and make it 2-0.
Liberty Hill threatened to reply in the fifth inning after Kyli Herman singled and Kendyl Yandrisovitz was hit by a pitch to put two runners on with two outs. Courtesy runner Jessica Green then caught Davis napping and stole third base. Kallen Floyd hit a sharp ground ball to Henderson’s Allison Waggoner, whose low throw was scooped up by Thomas for the final out of the inning.
Toon helped Henderson tack on its third run in the bottom of the sixth when she slapped a single to left field that scored Armstrong, who had tripled.
The rest was up to Davis, who gave up a lead-off single to Bevers in the sixth before retiring the next six Liberty Hill batters in order to secure the win.
Class 3A State Semifinal
Red and Charline McCombs Field, UT Austin
No. 1 Henderson 3, No. 4 Liberty Hill 0
Liberty Hill 000 000 0 — 0 5 1
Henderson 000 201 x — 3 10 0
Kourtney Bevers and Kylie Herman; Tiarra Davis and Karly Free. W – Davis (19-6). L – Bevers (12-3). 2B – H: Thomas. 3B – H: Armstrong. SAC – L: Jennifer Armstrong, Allison Waggoner. SB – L: Jessica Green.
RECORDS — Liberty Hill 28-8; Henderson 30-8.
NEXT UP — Liberty Hill season complete; Henderson vs. Lufkin Hudson in 3A state final, 10 a.m. Saturday at Red and Charline McCombs Field, UT Austin.