By Roger Smith
SUGAR LAND (Covering Fort Bend News) – The power of proud Austin Bulldog DNA surged through Jessalyn Shipley’s bat in the seventh inning of her team’s Game 1 at Cinco Ranch Thursday. The Lady ‘Dawgs, seeded second in District 20-6A, had led the Cougars for most of the game, 1-0 – but they needed long-ball heroics from Shipley to get the lead in their final at-bat. Austin won 3-2, and shut out the Cougars 8-0 in Game 2 Friday to advance.
Shipley’s older brother Daniel, who graduated from Austin in 2018, was a brilliant three-year starter at shortstop for the baseball team. Now, his sophomore sister is playing the same position on the softball team and making her own history.
The superb pitching of Natalya Cuevas held Cinco Ranch hitless in Game 1 until Aliana Marroquin broke up the gem with one out in the bottom of the sixth. The next batter, Caitlyn Bonjonia, smacked a hard grounder to Shipley, who picked it clean – but threw wild to first. Marroquin came around to score and tie the game 1-1, while Bonjonia advanced to second. Alana Noble singled to move Bonjonia to third, and she sprinted home when Austin catcher Tiana McFarland threw to second to try to cut down Noble on a steal. Cinco was suddenly on top, 2-1.
Austin came through in the clutch during the final inning. Speedy Sidney Carter’s ground ball led to an error by the Cougars’ Jenna Evans at first base. Mackenzie Flowe launched a double to left-center field to get Carter home with the tying run, taking some of the pressure off Shipley when she batted next.
Austin had only hit four home runs in the last 13 games prior to the playoff opener vs. Cinco Ranch (three by Angelina Leal and one by Morgan Westbrook). Shipley had not gone deep since March 5 in a 4-2 win over Travis.
About a minute and a half before she stepped into the batter’s box, the brilliant afternoon sun dropped behind a house beyond the center field wall. With the glare gone from her eyes, Shipley saw the ball clearly, crushing Marroquin’s first pitch and launching the ball beyond the fence, just to the left of the flagpole.
It wasn’t a walk-off, because the Bulldogs were the visitors; still, the dramatic homer had the same effect on Cinco Ranch as the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson launching a bomb off Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
The Cougars never recovered.
Cuevas allowed a lead-off single to Cinco’s Shelby Hodge but retired three straight to wrap up her complete game win.
Back in the friendly confines of their Pheasant Creek ballyard for Game 2 Friday, the Bulldogs rode Leal’s five-hit pitching performance to an 8-0, series-clinching win. Carter went 2-for-3 with three RBI, and Leal helped her own cause, going 1-for-2 with a double and scoring two runs.
Ridge Point beat Mayde Creek 5-2 Friday night to finish off their two-game sweep. However, the Kempner Cougars fell to Katy Tompkins, 10-0, in a “one-gamer,” and the Katy Tigers swept Travis out of the playoffs. Therefore, the top two seeds in District 19-6A (Katy and Katy Tompkins), as well as the top two from District 20-6A (Ridge Point and Austin), advanced. None lost a game in the first round.
Next week, Ridge Point meets the survivor of the Cypress Creek-Houston Lamar series, and Austin gets either Houston Heights or Spring Branch Memorial in Round Two.
Listen to the podcast of the Austin Lady Bulldogs’ Game 1 win over Cinco Ranch in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs by clicking on https://www.spreaker.com/show/fort-bend-sports-powered-by-vype. Also, listen to Friday’s baseball season finale between Austin and Elkins using the same link. Next week, VYPE will announce the schedule for baseball and softball playoff broadcasts.