CLIFTON – In the midst of winning eight of their last nine games, the Clifton Lady Cubs opened District 17-3A competition with three straight victories before their momentum came to a screeching halt when the UIL shutdown the season due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite being on Spring Break March 9-13, Clifton (3-0 in district, 9-7 overall) swept back-to-back, home-and-away district games against defending co-district champion Whitney to take the early driver’s seat in the pennant chase.
After blanking the Lady Wildcats, 7-0, in the first of the two-game series March 10, the Lady Cubs held off a late rally to edge Whitney, 3-2, March 13. Handling the pitching duties in both games, Savanah Gayle surrendered only one earned run in 14 innings of work from the circle.
“As we started off district being 3-0, we gained confidence in ourselves,” Clifton softball head coach Sam Ledlow said. “Beating Whitney was one of the goals set by our returning seniors, and accomplishing that back-to -back set the tone for our standard of competitiveness.
“This group of seniors is a special group to me. I have seen them grow and develop in their athletic ability from the seventh grade. They have been a fun group to coach and encourage as we developed a trusting coach-to-player relationship.”
In the first game against Whitney, Clifton built a seven-run lead after four innings, scoring one in the second, four in the third, and two more in the fourth. Kamryn Kettler drove in three runs while going two-for-three at the plate with two doubles, Daniella Gaona went three-for-three with an RBI, and Gayle helped her own cause going two-for-three with a run scored and another batted in.
“We adjusted well at the plate, and our defense played excellent behind Savanah’s pitching,” Ledlow said. “I’m proud of the way we played last night, and we will keep improving on little things to keep moving up the ladder.”
And that’s exactly what the Lady Cubs did three days later in Whitney. But the win did not come nearly as easy.
Clifton built an early 3-0 lead as Kynli Bearden knocked in two runs and Kamryn Kettler drove in another while Bailey Ledbetter walked three times and scored twice. In the meantime, Gayle scattered eight Whitney hits and pitched out of trouble in the bottom of the sixth before locking down the win in the seventh.
But following the thrill of victory on the field, the Lady Cubs received the disappointing news of the shutdown on the way home.
After advancing to the Class 3A playoffs as the district’s fourth place team in 2019, the Lady Cubs opened this season by losing six of their first seven games. But Clifton continued to improve through the losses, building on that experience to take their game to the next level.
“I know all of us have been looking forward to this season and what these girls could accomplish,” Ledlow said. “This crisis has us all standing on edge as we wait to hear how or if we will get to finish this season.
“This team is a very determined group of young ladies. And I have no doubt that if we get to finish this season, we will be ready to get back on the dirt, picking up where we left off.”
Photos by DAVID HARDING
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