After upsetting defending 5A champs, Foster 'ready to do something really great'
Foster’s softball team is in the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 2018. The Falcons got there in one of the most impressive ways possible, under some of the most adverse conditions possible.
A weather delay pushed the start of their Region III-5A one-game area playoff on Friday back by 90 minutes because of rain and hail. The Pearland Dawson High stadium lights went out during the game, causing another delay of 15 minutes.
There was the pressure of not losing on the head coach’s birthday.
And, oh yeah, weathering—no pun intended—all of this against the defending Class 5A state champs, Barbers Hill.
And yet Foster never wavered, and even thrived, in shocking the Eagles, 2-1, in eight innings in Pearland, rallying from a 1-0 deficit in the final inning to go to 31-5 and move on to the third round next week.
“Before the game, it was hailing outside of our bus,” sophomore shortstop Ella McDowell said. “I was asleep; I’m scared of rain. But our team was singing, talking game plan and just really up. We were talking even before the game that it was going to be the night we got past that second round. Then the lights go out and we light a candle that one of our players (Morgan Gutierrez) made for Coach (Keely) Shuler for her birthday, and spirits were just really high. We never lost faith once.”
And the Falcons are back in the regional quarters for the first time since they went to the state semifinals four years ago, and for the first time, ever, for this group of seniors.
“It feels great to get over that hump, and it’s even sweeter it was against Barbers Hill,” senior catcher Emily Naivar said. “They knocked us out my freshman year in the second round, so we have been waiting on our revenge for a long time. This is definitely the most special win in my time at Foster.”
Junior centerfielder Mickayla Tosch came up huge, responsible for both of Foster’s runs in the bottom half of the eighth inning.
After senior Ripley Welker singled to lead off and McDowell popped out to short, Tosch’s RBI single, which she advanced to second and third on off an error by the Eagles left fielder, scored Welker and evened the game 1-1.
“That was my (third) at-bat against (Eagles freshman ace) Hailey (Nutter) and I knew what she was going to throw me,” said Tosch, who was 2-for-3 at the plate. “I was almost certain she was going to throw me up-and-out, and, actually, the first pitch was in. I took that ball right through the 5-6 hole.”
All week during practice, Foster coaches threw players pitches that were up-and-out, mimicking Nutter’s tendencies. It also helped that Tosch was familiar with Nutter, her select ball teammate.
“That calmed my nerves,” Tosch said. “I had seen her before; I knew what she was going to throw. I’ve played against her before. I felt calm.”
In sophomore Bailey Lechler’s next at-bat, she fouled off a pitch and took a ball before Nutter delivered a wild pitch that slipped past catcher Peyton Helmly, scoring Tosch and inducing sheer joy from the home dugout.
“Once that ball was gone, I knew I had it,” said Tosch, a talented cross country and track and field distance runner. “I’m decently fast. The backstop slopes a little bit and the ball rolled, so I knew it wasn’t going to bounce back too hard. I got a good jump and took off.”
Foster junior Mickayla Tosch.VYPE Media
Though they were down by a run to a state champion with their last three outs left, the Falcons were coolly confident and poised.
“Our energy level never changed,” Naivar said. “We fought that entire game. We were not going to give up that easy. It was really important that we stayed supporting each other through the entire game. It was a complete team effort, and that’s why we were able to come out on top.”
The Falcons were prepared. During practices, coaches made sure players knew where on the field each Barbers Hill player liked to hit and shifted the defense accordingly each at-bat.
Players were also determined to avoid déjà vu.
In an April 22 game against eventual district champ Angleton, Foster watched, almost lethargically, as the Wildcats won, 3-2, in eight innings. It was a wake-up call.
Since then, there has been significant emphasis on accountability and a more competitive environment in practices.
If a Falcon missed a groundball or didn’t have the right approach at the plate, a teammate would let her hear about it.
Foster, ultimately, determined that slip-ups and laziness were no longer OK. And in the biggest game of its season in four years, that accordance paid dividends.
“We showed a lot of maturity and fight, and that’s something our team has been lacking,” McDowell said. “Against Angleton, they got up on us and we kind of shut down. We didn’t know how to respond. I feel we’ve grown in the last few weeks, to where when Barbers Hill scored that run in the top of the eighth to go up, no one hung their head or was down. We just never lost hope.”
Making for one heck of a birthday gift for Shuler.
“I know she had one birthday wish and it was to win, so I’m so happy we got it done for her,” Naivar said. “I know she had a lot of family and friends there, so it meant a lot more. She does so much for us. It was a big deal to get that special win on her special day.”
The Falcons know that not many expected them to still be playing into the second week of May.
And yet, here they are.
“I don’t think it’s set in,” Tosch said. “I think this week when we start practicing again, it will. There was a lot going on in that one night. A ton of crazy things that happened. It just gives us more confidence.
“No one’s expecting us to win or do great things, necessarily, so if we just go out there and play our game, I think we can do something really great.”