Lady Oilers sweep Katy to advance to state softball tournament

PEARLAND — No one can accuse the Pearland Lady Oilers going through the back door to advance to the 2016 Class 6A state softball tournament that will be played in Austin this Friday and Saturday.

Pearland was in the most difficult side of the 6A Region III bracket and head coach Laneigh Clark can sense that her girls are going to Austin with a lot of confidence, maturity, and momentum.

The playoff journey included a 11-0 thrashing of North Shore to open the post-season before beating No. 1 state-ranked and No. 4 nationally-ranked Deer Park in a second round best-of-three series sweep 3-1 and 3-2.

The Lady Oilers fought off a fiesty Katy Seven Lakes squad taking the third game of the best-of-three series after the two teams split the first two games.

That placed the Lady O's in the region final against the 6A defending state champion Katy Lady Tigers who were trying to return back to Austin to defend their crown.

But Pearland, who has 14 seniors on the roster, was not ready to see their season come to an end and they rose up to the occasion to unseat the state champions to make a case of their own that they are ready to go to Austin and return home with Pearland's third state softball championship.

The Lady Oilers won their first state title in 1996. Coach Clark arrived in 1998 and the Lady Oilers won three straight Region III titles in 2009, 2010, and 2011 while winning it all in 2010. Now, the Lady O's are focused to bring home another state championship.

Pearland (31-6-1) will face the Weslaco Lady Panthers (33-7) on Friday, June 3 at 6:00 p.m. at the Red and Charline McCombs Field on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

In the Region III championship, the game wasn't picturesque, but it was enough to get the job done.

Pearland beat Katy in the first game 4-2 setting up the series-clinching victory.

For the most part, senior All-State pitcher Alyssa Denham had Katy under control thanks to an outstanding defense.

Denham struggled a little with her control issuing seven walks and striking out only two, but the Lady Tigers couldn't get the all-important clutch hit as Denham held Katy hitless throughout the first six innings.

Only a slow dribbler in the seventh inning finally gave Katy their first hit, but it was harmless down the stretch as Denham closed out the state champions 3-1 sending Pearland to the state tournament for the fourth time in the last seven years.

After Denham got a ground out to open up the game, she then walked the next three hitters she faced to load the bases, but got great defensive help to shut Katy down.

The Lady Oilers finally got on the scoreboard in the second inning as Lindsey Stewart led off with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Denham, and then scored a single by Aileen Garcia for a 1-0 lead.

Pearland added another run in the fifth when Janna Roberts singled to left field, moved to second on an error as Katy misplayed a bunt by Madison Clements who was safe at first on the miscue.

Shortstop Natalie Romeo stroked a one-out single past the shortstop that allowed Roberts to score giving Pearland a little breathing room at 2-0.

But Katy wasn't going to go down easy as they worked Denham for two-walks and a wild pitch putting runners at second and third. An intentional walk loaded the bases.

A fielder's choice was grabbed by the Pearland defense and the runner was out at home. With two outs, a ball got away from the catcher allowing a run to score before Denham retired the side leaving the score at 2-1.

Pearland was able to get an insurance run as Garcia opened up the sixth with her third hit of the game to right field. Lauren Shepherd was inserted on first to run for Garcia.

Kaylee Hoppens sacrificed Shepherd to second and Roberts moved Shepherd to third on a hit past shortstop.

That set up a ground out by Clements to short, but allowed Shepherd to race home making the score 3-1.

Katy made their last effort to pull out a win when they put a runner on base via a Pearland error.

The next hitter flew out to left field, but Katy got their first hit of the game off Denham placing runners at the corners with two outs.

Denham got a grounder hit to Garcia at short and she fired the ball to first baseman Sydney Gutierrez for the final out of the game and the celebration erupted by the Pearland players, coaches, and fans.

“I thought Alyssa and coach (Michele) Hyden did a great job of keeping them off balance in both games,” Clark said. “I don’t think they knew what was coming to the plate a lot of the time.

“Alyssa threw great. It’s been just a total team effort. I can’t wait to get to state to see what we can do.”

Pearland will be joined at the state tournament by Keller, Atascocita and Weslaco.