AUSTIN, Texas –
When The Woodlands
suffered its first loss of the season a week ago, it hinted at some vulnerability for the top team in MaxPreps' Xcellent 25 National Softball Rankings. On Saturday, some of that vulnerability showed.
But so did The Woodlands' top-notch ability, which helped it hold off San Antonio O'Connor, 7-5, to win the University Interscholastic League's Class 5A state title.
"It's amazing," said pitcher Paige Mcduffee
, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player. "I don't know how to explain it. I'm just really excited."
The Woodlands (44-1) was pushed to a deciding Game 3 in its best-of-3 regional final series against Tomball last week. But the Highlanders' first trip to the state tournament didn't feature many tense moments. The Woodlands blanked defending 5A champion Pearland, 6-0, in the semifinals and was leading O'Connor 7-2 after six innings at Red and Charline McCombs Field.
But closing out the title got complicated. O'Connor (34-5), which knocked off MaxPreps' No. 3 Plano in the semifinals, cut the lead to 7-5 with three hits and some shaky defense from The Woodlands. The Highlanders didn't commit an error through six innings, and then committed four in the seventh.
But with two O'Connor runners on base, McDuffee struck out Maegan Ramirez to end the game.
"Even though we were having a few mishaps," McDuffee said, "I was confident."
That was partly because of the cushion that The Woodlands' provided McDuffee, a junior lefty who has orally committed to powerhouse UCLA. Most of the margin was provided in the fourth inning, when The Woodlands' began smashing the ball.
The inning started with a homer by
that pushed The Woodlands' lead to 3-1. After O'Connor starter Kenedy Urbany walked a batter and hit another, she was replaced by Ramirez. Alyssa Jorgensen
continued the rally with an RBI single and another run scored on a wild pitch.
Then Faith Bohack
floored O'Connor, and brought The Woodlands' fans to their feet, with a line-drive homer over the fence in left-center. That made the score 7-1, and although O'Connor got another run in the fifth, the deficit was still huge against a team that had 22 shutouts this season.
McDuffee (37-1) pitched a complete game, allowing nine hits but only two earned runs. She struck out six, including the final hitter of the game, which capped a remarkable season for The Woodlands.
"There's been so much pressure," coach Richard Jorgensen said. "First we were No. 1 in the state and then national. But they handled it like champions."