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Lady Lions complete playoff sweep of Celina

By Gabriel D. Brooks
May 19, 2012 at 7:22 a.m.

GRAND SALINE - For the second consecutive day, Henderson faced an early deficit against Celina in the Class 3A Region II softball semifinals, and once again the Lady Lions came back to serve a stinging defeat to the LadyCats.

Karley Free concluded her huge day at the plate with a bases-loaded, two-out, two-run single in the top of the seventh to deliver a 7-5 Henderson victory in Friday's Game 2 at Grand Saline High School. Free finished the game 4-for-4 with four RBIs and a double as Henderson (27-7) returned the favor to a Celina team that swept it in the 2011 regional semifinals en route to the 3A state championship.

Free's game-winning hit came after Henderson loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh and the score tied 5-5. A flyout and a fielder's choice putout at the plate put the pressure on Free to deliver with two outs, but the sophomore handled the at-bat with poise.

"I try not to put any pressure on myself," said Free, who was 6-for-7 against Celina. "I know my team has my back and I just try to think about what I can do for my team in that situation, envision doing something big."

Once Free's go-ahead knock put Henderson three outs away from the 3A Region II championship round, junior pitcher Tiarra Davis took over. Davis struck out two Ladycats and induced a game-ending 5-3 groundout with a runner on. Davis pitched Game 2's final 6 2/3 innings, striking out seven and walking five while allowing two earned runs on four hits. Davis limited Celina (22-12) to seven hits in 13 2/3 innings with 17 strikeouts and 11 walks.

Henderson faces Paris North Lamar in the 3A Region II championship. The site, time and format are yet to be determined. Celina beat North Lamar for last year's regional title.

Henderson, which overcame a 2-0 deficit through 3 1/2 innings of Thursday's Game 1, fought back from a 5-1 hole through three frames of Friday's Game 2. After Tessa Thomas doubled and Taylor White singled to lead off the inning, Free's two-run double and Davis' RBI double fueled a four-run fourth that tied the game 5-5. Davis, who was a home run shy of the cycle and scored two runs, then kept Celina hitless for the final four innings.

"The kids showed a lot of mental toughness being able to slow the game down in big situations and focus on small things," said Henderson coach Julie Murry.

Natalie McQuiston's first-inning RBI single gave Henderson a short-lived 1-0 lead. Celina took the lead with three first-inning runs thanks in part to Shelby Carter's RBI triple and chased Henderson sophomore Kami McCaw from the pitcher's circle with one out after facing five batters. Celina extended its advantage to 5-1 with a run apiece in the second and third innings.

Davis finished the series 5-for-7 with three runs scored, while McQuiston knocked in four runs. Thomas doubled in each game.

Henderson avoided Carter most of the series, walking her five times in eight plate appearances. Celina leadoff hitter Lindsie Knowles was 2-for-4 with a second-inning RBI single Friday, while Janie Knowles also drove in one run in Game 2. Starter Shayna Moore allowed six earned runs on 11 hits with three strikeouts and a walk in Friday's complete-game effort.

Free said Henderson's newfound penchant for comebacks proves the Lady Lions are never out of a game.

"It shows us we can do big things," Free said. "I think we all know what's at stake and we can come back through anything if we just work together."

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