COLLEGE STATION — Hadi Fults drove a 1-2 pitch over the right field wall with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift Bullard to a 5-4 win over Liberty in Game 1 of a Class 4A Region III final series Wednesday night at Texas A&M’s Davis Diamond.
“Honestly, I’m just hungry,” Fults said. “I’m ready for some chicken or something. It’s been a long game. I had to finish it for my teammates in dinger fashion.”
Fults was also hungry for a pitch to hit after being walked twice in the game, including once intentionally.
Fults got her pitch and left no doubt for her 23rd home run of the season, rounding the bases to be greeted by her teammates at home plate.
“This is my first walk-off home run,” Fults said. “I had no idea what was going on. I think I blacked out after I hit that ball. But I was so excited to see my teammates at the plate.
Bullard went into the top of the seventh inning with a 4-3 lead when Reese Evans tripled and was driven in by a Hollie Thomas sacrifice fly to tie the game. Bullard didn’t get a baserunner in the bottom of the seventh inning, forcing extra innings.
Neither team scored in the eighth inning, sending the game to the ninth still tied at 4-4.
Bailee Slack hit a one-out double for Liberty in the top of the ninth. Anistyn Foster then struck out Evans and got Thomas to ground out to end the threat, setting up the Lady Panthers’ walk-off finish.
“I just told them what a privilege to play in this atmosphere,” Bullard head coach Julie Murry said. “Competitors love to compete. That’s just what we did today. We just showed a lot of fight. They showed a lot of fight also. I think just our ability to stay the course is what helped us in the end.”
Bullard leads the series 1-0 and is one win away from reaching the state tournament for the third consecutive year. Game 2 is set for 6 p.m. Thursday at Davis Diamond. A win by Liberty, which has won two straight state championships, would force a decisive Game 3 at 6 p.m. Saturday back at Davis Diamond.
“I think it’s really big,” Murry said. “Obviously tomorrow is a whole new day and a whole new game, and we know they’re going to give us everything they have. I think we have to get ready to come out tomorrow to play again. But I think having the lead in the series is very big. It’s a much more comfortable position to be in.”
Fults retired Liberty in order in the top of the first inning.
Kirstin Malone led off the bottom of the first inning with a single. Fults was walked. After a Teagan Graul infield single loaded the bases, Matti Nix drew a bases-loaded walk to give Bullard a 1-0 lead. Liberty then turned a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
Fults retired the first two batters again in the top of the second inning before a one-out single by Kylee Bishop. Fults got Abbie Key to hit a soft liner back to her in the circle for the third out.
Saelyr Hunt was hit by a pitch with two outs in the bottom of the second, but Bullard was unable to add to its lead.
Fults once again retired the first two batters in the top of the third. Slack then reached on an error, and Liberty answered with four straight hits. Kennesaw State signee Evans had an RBI double, and she scored on an RBI double by Thomas. Alex Wiley followed with an RBI single, and Abby Vickers singled before Bishop popped out to third base to end the frame with Liberty leading 3-1.
Bullard quickly responded, though.
Malone led off the bottom of the third with a single, and Fults was intentionally walked. Graul singled to load the bases. Two batters later, Kamyn Honzell delivered a two-run single to tie the game, and Dakota Payne then had a bunt single that scored Kenzie Lakata from third for the go-ahead run, making the score 4-3.
Liberty got two hits in the fourth inning — a one-out single by Brookelyn Taylor and a two-out double from Slack. Fults then got Evans to ground out to end the inning, stranding two runners in scoring position.
Bullard had no baserunners in the fourth inning.
Freshman Brooklyn Brannen came in to pitch for Bullard in the top of the fifth. A Wiley single was sandwich in between two flyouts before Brannen struck out Bishop for the third out.
Teagan Graul reached for Bullard in the fifth on an error, but the Lady Panthers couldn’t add to their lead.
Brannen struck out the first two batters in the top of the sixth before a Bryanna Pantalion single. Slack grounded out to end the inning.
Bullard got two runners on in the bottom of the sixth, but the score remained at 4-3.
Malone, Graul and Saelyr Hunt all had two hits for Bullard (38-3). Fults, Honzell and Payne all had one hit.
Fults allowed three unearned runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and no walks in four innings. Brannen allowed one run on three hits with three strikeouts and no walks in three innings. Foster pitched two shutout innings, allowing one hit with one strikeout and no walks.
Taylor allowed five runs on nine hits with seven strikeouts and three walks in 8.1 innings.
Evans, Slack and Wiley all had two hits for Liberty (34-8).