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Softball: Lambert splits doubleheader with Mill Creek to stay alive in playoffs
Lambert's Rachel Cowart is congratulated by head coach Brooks Youngblood after hitting a home run against Mill Creek on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. - photo by Brian Paglia

This would be an appropriate ending, Brooks Youngblood thought, as the ball struck the top of the center field fence and went straight up in the air, nobody knowing on which side it would fall.

The Lambert softball team, exceptionally charmed through most of 2016, has been much less so this year, with injuries and simple regression to the mean working against the Longhorns. If that ball had fallen back to the field, Kassidy Krupit had been stranded at second and Mill Creek had scored the walk-of run in the bottom of the seventh ... Well, it would have been consistent with the theme of the season. 

"I was like, 'This is about par for the course,'" Youngblood said.

And that is what happened – partly. The ball fell back to the field, and Krupit stopped at second. But then Lindsey Nelson blooped a single into shallow right to score pinch runner Alexis Sewell, and Krupit set down Mill Creek's next three hitters, and Lambert won 2-1 after losing its first game on Thursday, keeping the Longhorns' season alive in the first round of the GHSA playoffs. 

The Longhorns' first contest was another low-scoring outing, which have been plentiful for Lambert (17-11) this year. An RBI double from Skylar Aledia and a solo home run from Rachel Cowart gave the Longhorns two runs, but the Hawks (14-13) chipped in a bit more and scratched out a 3-2 win, with leadoff hitter Dallas Goodnite scoring or driving in all three runs. 

Between games, Lambert had to confront the reality that the coming game was a literal must-win for the Longhorns. Krupit addressed the issue by leaving no other options. 

"I was not ready for it to end tonight," Krupit said. "I know (Lindsey) wasn't, I know anyone else here wasn't. It would just be devastating. I just told the team, 'We've got to avoid this. We've got to win this game to make it to Saturday, and then Saturday, we'll do the same thing.'"

Krupit threw a better game in her second outing of the day, giving up six hits in seven innings, and shuffling the lineup for the second game proved to be a wise choice by Youngblood. He saved the leadoff spot for Krupit, the team's best hitter, because he saw that it was the only place in the order to come up four times in the first game.

That could have happened again in the second, but Krupit's drive brought Nelson up, and she broke the tie. 

Thursday's games didn't show much separation between the Longhorns and Hawks. Saturday's single matchup could very well be more evidence of that.

"I told (the team) all along, 'We're looking at a team that's eerily similar to us,'" Youngblood said. "It's going to be the girls that have the bigger hearts, that want it more, that execute when it needs to be done."