SHAWNEE — Blanchard pitcher Ashli Hafford gave up a first-inning, no-doubt home run to Tecumseh's Caitlin Bingham, then set about the rest of the game atoning for her mistake.
Hafford retired 16 straight batters, struck out 12, delivered the game-tying single during a three-run third inning for the Lions and wriggled out of a seventh-inning jam, lifting Blanchard to a 3-1 win on Thursday in the first round of the Class 4A state fast-pitch softball tournament at The Ball Fields at Firelake.
Blanchard (35-9), making its fourth state-tournament appearance in five years, will face Hilldale (33-5) in the semifinals on Friday, as the Hornets beat Oologah 5-1 in another first-round game. But it was a perilous-at-times journey for the Lions against Tecumseh (24-12).
“We're not a favorite anywhere,” Blanchard coach Larry Weaver said. “Nobody's given us, really, a chance to win this thing. … If I could describe this bunch, they play with all their heart. They play for each other.”
Blanchard loaded the bases with one out in the top of the first inning, only to come up empty after hitting into a double play. In the bottom of the inning, Hafford struck out Tecumseh's first two batters before Bingham unloaded on the first pitch she saw, sending it over the left-field fence.
“It felt a lot better to give it up early in the game than late in the game,” Hafford said. “I knew that we could come back and win it.”
Franki Hull walked immediately after Bingham's homer, and the Savages didn't have another baserunner until the seventh inning, as Hafford threw five perfect innings, relying on her drop curveball.
The Lions broke through against Tecumseh pitcher Jordan Detherage in the fourth inning. Sha Ingram led off with a bunt single and two outs later, stole second base. Hafford followed with an RBI single to center field to tie the game.
“I knew I had to keep trying harder,” Hafford said. “I had to keep pushing for my team, because it wasn't just for me.”
A pair of Tecumseh errors allowed Hafford and Jaden Shores to score, giving the Lions a 3-1 lead.
Hafford walked Bingham to lead off the seventh. One out later, Aspen Grimes doubled to right-center field, sending pinch-runner Sierra Humphery to third base and raising the Savages' hopes. But Bailey Smith struck out and Hilary Babbit fouled out to catcher Brittany Nabors to end the game and Tecumseh's first trip to the state tournament since 2001.