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Applebe’s shutout gem knots Tompkins series at a game apiece after 1-0 win

May 17, 2019

MANVEL - In a contest where the Deer Park infielders played a crucial role in keeping the team’s season alive, it was fitting those gloves also ended the Game 2 drama.

First baseman Courtney Plocheck snagged a hard-hit line drive before stepping on first to complete a game-ending twin-killing, allowing the Lady Deer to capture a 1-0 season-saving victory over Katy Tompkins at Manvel High School Thursday night.

With the Lady Falcons capturing Game 1 by a 4-3 score on Wednesday night, it now all boils down to Friday night’s Game 3 to see which team earns a berth to the Region III title round.

Game time Friday night is 7 back at Manvel.

Considering the opponent and how deep we are in the playoffs, it may have been Lady Deer pitcher Madison Applebe’s best-pitched game of her brief high school career.

The freshman went home with a one-hit shutout, only allowing one Lady Falcon to reach scoring position all game long and that was in the fourth. For the seven innings, just three Lady Falcons reached the basepaths.

“She was on it today. They have some really good hitters and she was able to hold them down. Applebe did really well because she was hitting her spots,” Deer Park head coach Errica Cantu said.

Tompkins’ only hit saw two-hole batter Reagan Heflin send a ground ball to the right side of the infield that second baseman Sara Vanderford smothered with a dive to her left. She managed to flip the ball to Plocheck, but Heflin beat the throw by a step.

After a sac bunt, clean-up hitter Morgan Wright was retired when Tompkins’ catcher chased after a 3-1 pitch and fouled out to Plocheck. Simply put, it was the game’s biggest out and maybe the season’s.

Then Applebe induced Kendall McGary to ground out to third baseman KK Morado to end the inning.

Plocheck’s catch was one of six outs she single-handedly made. Ironically, she began the game by catching a liner and then cleanly fielding a grounder.

But the game-ending play was her finest.

“I knew it was coming at me. I was ready to get both of the outs. Because she was a righty, I went more that way, away from the line, it was right there,” Plocheck said.

The infield as a group was responsible for 13 of the 21 outs and Tompkins does make an opponent play defense because Applebe was limited to two strikeouts.

Morado had the sweetest out, coming up with an over-the-shoulder catch in foul territory to retire leadoff batter Avery Hodge in the sixth.

Tompkins has been unleashing its own freshman in the pitching circle for this series and Ashley Martinez obviously pitched well enough to win Game 2.

She surrendered five hits, but the one that came back to haunt her was the triple she allowed to Vanderford to start the third inning.

Down 0-2 in the count, Vanderford sent a screaming liner to the outfield grass for her three-bagger. Plocheck followed and did her job by connecting for a run-scoring sacrifice fly to the center fielder.

But Deer Park was 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. If the Lady Deer are to maintain a pulse Friday night, they know they’re going to have to somehow cash in when opportunity arises.

Martinez forced Deer Park to strand Haidyn Hardcastle on second base in the first inning, Amaya Montano on second base in the second inning and Morado on second base in the fourth inning.

Hodge at second base and third baseman Brooke Lorenzon played strong defense. Between the two of them, they accounted for 11 outs.

Hodge, another freshman, robbed Montano of a hit in the second when she dove and stopped her grounder then used her gloved hand to flip the ball to the shortstop standing on second base for the forceout.

But with only 16 Class 6A high schools still playing softball in the entire state, plays like that should probably be expected.

“It’s so relieving to know we can go to the next game and punch through. We wanted this game so bad. We knew going in we were going to leave it all on the field no matter what,” Plocheck said.

ravery@hcnonline.com