Lambert's softball team has had to rediscover itself to start the 2018 season.
Still dealing with the loss of cornerstone players like Kassidy Krupit, the Longhorns have had to tweak their offensive identity a bit. To head coach Brooks Youngblood, the attempt to do that has had mixed results so far.
“We’ve been talking a lot about approach,” he said. “We’ve been talking a lot about what a quality at-bat is. It doesn’t just have to be the big bopper. You can do a lot without that. Throughout the last few years we’ve had those hitters that can put it over the fence.”
But the long ball hasn't vanished completely for Lambert, and it keyed them in Tuesday's Region 5-7A opener against North Forsyth, with two home runs as part of 11 total hits helping the Longhorns to an 8-5 road win over the Raiders.
“I think these girls needed it,” Youngblood said. “We needed a good win like that, (especially) offensively. We haven’t really busted out offensively, per se. To be able to come out here and score eight runs against a team that’s going to be competing for this region championship, that’s huge.”
To begin with, it was the Raiders that were hitting the round-trippers, with Mallorie Black hitting a shot to left center in the bottom of the first for a 1-0 lead. During Lambert’s first few trips through the order, North made some diving plays on defense – two in the outfield by Anslee Anderson and McKayla Cothran, and one by Black at shortstop – to rob the Longhorns of three hits.
“It’s easy for the hitters to get down (and say), ‘It’s not our day, they’re making every play,’ and let that influence the way they play the rest of the game,” Youngblood said. “(We) never did – they kept battling and the hits came.”
Brooke Miller, who pitched all seven innings for Lambert, aided her own cause in the third, knotting the game up at 1-1 with a no-doubt home run to left. She held the Raiders to one run over the game’s first five frames before allowing four in the final two innings. She struck out three and allowed seven hits in her winning effort.
“She hasn’t really been in this spot,” Youngblood said. “She hasn’t been our main pitcher the last couple of years. She may have pitched a little bit here and there but not in a region game like this. She gave up the one home run but other than that, she was pretty much dealing. Her home run, doing the job offensively and defensively, she kind of set the tone both ways.”
The fourth inning was a tough one for North. With two outs, a misplayed popup at second allowed Ansley Hyde to cross the plate from second. The Longhorns continued to capitalize on their second chance, scoring two more runs on two RBI doubles from Sydney Walker and Lindsey Nelson.
Lambert scored two more in the fifth to take commanding 6-1 lead, on a double by Ansley Dean and a wild pitch that scored Anna Jackson.
Hailey Mize and Anslee Anderson notched hits to bring in two North runs in the sixth, but a two-run home run in the top of the seventh from Lambert’s Anna Jackson kept the Longhorns in control. Two more runs from the Raiders in the bottom of the seventh closed the gap again, but Miller was able to induce the outs she needed for the victory.
Mize led the Raiders offensively, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Jackson went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a run scored for the Longhorns.
“The region’s going to be very tough,” Youngblood said. “That team’s going to make the playoffs. They’re going to score runs this year, that’s for sure. Opening up with a win, it’s huge. It’s a 10-game region schedule. The first one, that’s a big one right there.”