BUDA — If anyone was unsure of just how good the 2019 Cougarettes are prior to Friday night’s Region IV-6A final, those doubts have been laid to rest.
Canyon played a nearly flawless game in all facets against Austin High at Hays High School in Buda, and its reward is a second straight regional crown and a return trip to the state tournament at the University of Texas in Austin. The Cougarettes (35-6) shut out the Maroons 2-0 in front of a standing-room-only crowd and ended the game in dramatic fashion on a double play sparked by a laser of a throw from right fielder Isabel Armendariz.
Armendariz gunned down Austin High’s lead runner by a mile, and third baseman Andrea Gutierrez quickly fired to second to record the final out of the contest and begin Canyon’s celebration.
“Automatically, I was thinking [third base] no matter what,” Armendariz said of her throw. “I was actually kind of scared because Andrea was just kind of standing there. I was like, ‘I really hope this throw gets to her.’ I was freaking out, but whenever the throw made it there I felt really good and was like, ‘We got this.’”
The game was closely contested for all seven innings, but it never felt as though the Cougarettes were in danger of losing any momentum thanks to the pitching of senior Aliyah Pritchett and a rock-solid effort from her defense. Pritchett held the Maroons to four hits while striking out nine in yet another dominant effort from the circle.
Pritchett, who was a key player on last season’s state runner-up squad, said seeing her teammates step up in such pressure-packed situations almost brought a tear to her eye.
“It made me want to cry,” Pritchett said. “I love this team so much and I knew they had my back. It was just insane seeing them work with me, and we all fit so well. I just love having them behind me.”
The game was billed as a pitcher’s duel between Pritchett and Austin High’s Danielle Serna, and it didn’t disappoint. The two hurlers combined for 20 punchouts, but the Cougarettes were able to strike early against the Maroons’ Colorado State-bound right-hander.
Serna intentionally walked Pritchett with two outs and the bases empty in the top of the first, and cleanup hitter Hunter Vestal wasted no time making Austin High pay for the move. The junior immediately ripped an RBI double to left-center field to put her team on the board.
“I was looking for a pitch down in the zone and to try and get it in play somewhere,” Vestal said of her RBI.
Canyon turned a 1-6-3 double play to end the bottom of the second inning, and the Cougarettes tacked on another run in the top of the third.
This time, Pritchett did the damage herself, as she earned a walk, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. The senior then caught Serna’s attention by dancing off the bag, which drew an errant throw and allowed her to sprint home easily.
“I love having fun on the bases,” Pritchett said. “I wanted to see what she would do and it ended up working out in my favor.”
Pritchett held the Maroons hitless until allowing a leadoff single in the bottom of the fifth, but a fielder’s choice and two strikeouts helped the Cougarettes avoid any harm.
Austin High later saw Serna advance to third with two outs after posting a bunt single in the sixth, but Pritchett again harnessed the power of the strikeout to end the threat.
Refusing to go down quietly, the Maroons began to stir again in the bottom of the seventh with a leadoff single, but Pritchett sat down the next batter with an overpowering fastball for strike three. Moments later, Austin High got a single to right field that brought its fans to their feet, but Armendariz silenced them with a missile-like throw to third that began a game-ending double play.
“They were focused, had intensity and didn’t seem to feel the pressure,” Canyon head coach Kevin Randle said. “They played well, they played composed. I’m extremely happy for the kids and we’re going to see what we can do next week.”
The Cougarettes won despite collecting only two hits on the night, which came courtesy of Vestal and Mia Macchia on a pair of doubles. Still, it was more than enough to punch Canyon’s ticket back to Texas high school softball’s biggest showcase.
“People thought we were the underdog,” Pritchett said. “We showed them and we brought it to them. We’re still here, even though we have a whole new team. We’re still who we are.”
The Cougarettes are scheduled to face Klein Collins in a state semifinal game this coming Friday in Austin. The contest will begin at either 3 p.m. or 6 p.m.
Armendariz said Canyon has only one goal in mind now that it has battled back to the final four.
“We’re not going to lose this time,” she said. “We’re giving it all we’ve got.”