WATSON -- Never had 3 scoreless innings felt so long and drawn out.
Especially after the way No. 11 seeded Live Oak scored in bunches to start Tuesday’s Class 5A state bi-district playoff game on the way to a huge lead over No. 22 Haughton through 2 innings.
Instead of a recipe for a potential mercy-rule verdict, Live Oak coach Michelle Morris opted to substitute several players – including starting pitcher Lindsey Rizzo – and Haughton’s relief pitching managed to keep the Lady Eagles offense in check from the 3rd-5thinnings.
By that time Haughton, which was making its first playoff appearance in three years, had reeled off five runs in the 6th inning and swung a good portion of the momentum in its direction until Live Oak’s final at-bat.
The Lady Eagles were able to close out a 14-5 victory with a rousing 6th inning, finally getting to reliever Leah Hopson for five runs on five hits.
“It was pretty important,” Live Oak catcher Brett Leiva said of her team’s final surge in the 6th. “They could have come back at any point in time. We can’t let up. We’ve come back in multiple games and have won. You have to be 110% all the time. We had to do that in the 6th and keep our foot on the gas.”
Live Oak (19-8), which won for the seventh time in its last eight games, travels to face No. 6 seed Ruston at 4 p.m. Friday in the regional round.
“It will be my first time on road in the playoffs,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to have to pick it up going to their house.”
Morris shouldered some of the blame for her team’s uneven performance when she substituted a position player and pitcher with her team comfortably leading 9-0.
“That was my fault; I changed the flow of the game,” Morris said. “There’s going to be a little change, but it shouldn’t have been that drastic.”
Rizzo, making her first postseason start in the circle, had breezed through her outing to that point, having no-hit Haughton (14-15) through 3 innings before allowing a walk and a double to start the 4th inning.
After scoring nine runs on seven hits, and taking advantage of two 1st-inning errors that contributed to four unearned runs, Live Oak had trouble solving Hopson. She came on in relief of starter Shelby Hensley to start the 3rd inning, and shut out the Eagles on four hits through the 5th inning.
“It was adjustments,” Leiva said. “(Hopson) was a little slower and throwing different than the first pitcher. We also had different players in, so we all had to adjust to the new pitcher. We have moments sometimes. It just happens, but we got through it.”
Leiva was one of the driving forces in Live Oak’s early uprising, driving in five of her career-high six runs in the 1st and 2nd innings – including a bases-loaded double to deep left field.
Along with first baseman Aubrey Rabalais, Leiva keyed the Eagles’ 16-hit output with 3-for-4 performances and both were part of their team’s late surge in the 6th inning.
“Coming in we knew this game would be kind of difficult,” Leiva said. “We knew we were going to have to perform like we know how. I was just thinking about making contact, getting on base and scoring some runs. You hit once and everyone follows. That’s kind of how it happened.”
Leiva drove in her sixth run on a single to deep shortstop, setting into motion a productive inning that also featured Rabalais’ two-run double that got to the center-field fence and another two-run double from pinch-hitter Madi Sunde.
Sunde filled in for shortstop Kendall Theriot, who suffered a knee injury during a collision covering second base on a steal attempt in the 6th inning.
Second baseman BreAnna Corkern produced three hits and a RBI, while center fielder Kelsey Miller had two hits and two stolen bases.
Rizzo didn’t experience the same level of success upon her return in the 6th with one out.
Haughton scored three times on four hits against reliever Abigail Prescott when Rizzo was summoned back into action, immediately getting Hensley – the Lady Bucs’ clean-up hitter – looking at strike three before the senior right-hander permitted three straight run-scoring hits until an inning-ending pop up on the infield.
Following her team’s big 6th inning, Rizzo returned to dominance in the 7th with a perfect final inning, getting her fourth strikeout to end the game.
“It made me feel calm again like at the beginning of the game,” Morris said. “It was more helpful to me probably than it was the team; that we still had this.”
LIVE OAK 14, HAUGHTON 5
Haughton 000 005 0 -- 5 9 3
Live Oak 450 005 x -- 14 16 0
Shelby Hensley, Leah Hopson (3) and Reanna Crumpler; Lindsey Rizzo, Abigail Prescott (5), Rizzo (6) and Brett Leiva. W -- Rizzo. L -- Hensley. 2B: Haughton -- Hopson, Courrett, Borah; Live Oak -- Leiva, Sunde, Rabalais (2). Records: Haughton 14-15, Live Oak 19-8. Up next: Live Oak at Ruston, 4 p.m. Friday.