Photo: Billy Calzada /Staff Photographer
SAN MARCOS — Judson overcame several hurdles this season on its way to equaling its deepest softball playoff run.
The Rockets navigated through youth and inexperience. They rallied through key injuries and a three-game district losing streak that easily could have derailed their campaign.
The achievements made what transpired Thursday that much more heartbreaking.
Two outs from a landmark victory, Judson instead was left in tears as Austin High came up clutch in its final at-bats for a 5-3 triumph in a Class 6A third-round contest at San Marcos High School.
The Maroons (23-5-1) won the one-game playoff and advanced to the regional semifinals to face Laredo United or Edinburg Vela.
“We just wanted to go as far as we could,” Judson senior designated player Kelsie Ramos said. “We’ve pulled through many times before. But this time, it just didn’t happen.”
In a contest that featured several momentum swings, it was Austin High that struck the final and most crucial blow.
In the top of the seventh, outfielder Karina Serna led off with a single. Pitcher Danielle Serna followed with a double, and third baseman Lexie Aleman was intentionally walked to load the bases with no outs.
Judson pitcher Emily Ayala struck out second baseman Natalie Guerrero for the first out, but outfielder Alyssa Ybarra ripped a bases-clearing double to left-center.
Judson got a force at home and Ayala recorded a strikeout to stop the bleeding, but it was too late.
Colorado State signee Danielle Serna struck out the side to secure the win for Austin High. She finished with 14 strikeouts and struck out the side three times.
“This team has shown composure all season,” Judson senior shortstop Melissa Gonzalez said after the Rockets reached the third round for the second time and the first since 1999. “We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game. We fought hard, but Austin also fought hard.”
The ending was a gut punch for Judson (26-10), which was in prime position for a win after it took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth.
Third baseman Destiny Ramirez reached on a two-out walk and was replaced by pinch runner Arianna Alejandro. Alejandro stole second and scored on catcher Nyah Chapa’s double.
The clutch hit was part of a big night for Chapa, who led off the fourth with a single and advanced to third when two Austin High players collided trying to collect the ball, then one committed a throwing error.
Pinch runner Daejana Spears came in to run for Chapa and scored on a wild pitch. It was the second run scored by Spears, who replaced Chapa after she singled to lead off the second inning, stole second, moved to third on a passed ball, and scored on a wild pitch.
Austin High had tied it at 2-2 in the top of the sixth on outfielder Daniela Camacho’s single and at 1-1 in the third by capitalizing on two-out fielding error, a single and a passed ball.