It was roughly 1 p.m. when the Prairiland Lady Patriots took the field Monday against Pilot Point in the decisive third game of their area round playoff series. And the game didn’t end until roughly five hours later, when the ball sailed over the left field wall after connecting with the bat of sophomore McKenna Guest, giving Prairiland the 6-5 victory in the 11th inning.
“It felt really good off the bat,” Guest said. “I’ve had a few this series where I felt like it was going out, though, and those never did. So at first I was just running for dear life, hoping to get on base. Then I saw everyone waving me on, and I started jumping around as I went around second base. It was awesome.”
Poetically, a home run ended the game and also opened the game for Prairiland, as Kyndal Yaross blasted a three-run homer in the first inning. Throughout the entire game, Pilot Point was unable to get Yaross out, as she batted 3-for-3 before the Lady Bearcats resorted to intentionally walking her.
“I knew their pitcher wasn’t throwing very hard, so I knew I had to wait back on the ball,” Yaross explained. “Each time I went up there, I was just looking for a base hit or something to move my runners over. I was never specifically looking for the home run.”
After jumping out to a 3-0 lead, Pilot Point responded by scoring five in a row over the course of the next two innings.
Prairiland cut the deficit to one when Lanna Riney grounded into a fielder’s choice, allowing Kirsten Bridges to score.
And then, in the bottom of seventh, Yaross tripled, allowing Guest to score the tying run after a single of her own in the prior at-bat.
And after that, 5-5 is where the score would remain for the next several hours.
It wasn’t just the competitive softball that kept the teams deadlocked, though. The two teams also waited through multiple weather delays as a result of frequent lightning in the area.
“We just stayed focused the whole time,” Bridges said of how the Lady Patriots maintained their intensity through the delays. “We never lost focus and we just had winning on our mind.”
The team looked for ways to keep their energy high in the downtime, and Yaross said that included tossing a ball around with questions written on it that they’d take turns answering.
Providing a big boost for the Lady Pats was senior Grace Unruh, who stepped onto the mound in the fifth inning and proceeded to pitch six stellar innings of relief.
“I was using my curve and screw mostly to get them out, and my teammates did a great job of backing me up,” Unruh said. “This was a good team win.”
After proving to be a handful for the Lady Patriots throughout the first two games, Unruh silenced Pilot Point’s formidable leadoff batter, striking her out and then getting her to ground out.
“With her, I was pitching out and then jamming her in,” Unruh said. “That’s all you can do with slappers like that.”
Unruh silenced the Lady Bearcats’ bats, and after a very long day of softball, Guest sent the team from Pattonville home happy.
“It’s a great feeling,” she said with a grin. “I don’t think I’ve ever hit a walk-off home run before.”
With the win, the Lady Patriots find themselves as area champions after barely making the playoffs as the fourth seed in their district.
“We’re in an extremely tough district, and we had some key injuries during the regular season too,” head coach Brian Morris said. “We knew we had a good chance to make it this far if we played as well as we’re capable of.”
Looking ahead to the next round, the Lady Patriots will take on top-ranked Rains in a single-game playoff on Friday at 7 p.m. at Whitehouse.
“We’ve got to make the most of these next couple days and put in the work so we can come out sharp and beat Rains,” Unruh said.