AUSTIN - Amy Vidal-Bush likes an underdog.
For her, senior pitcher Hannah Benavides is that underdog. The pitcher, who doesn't even hit 5-feet on the height scale, does things that pitchers her size don't usually do.
One of those is tossing back-to-back shutouts in the Class 6A State Semifinals and championship game to clinch Deer Park's third state championship with a 1-0 victory over Converse Judson on Saturday night.
"You don't have a lot of pitchers that throw back-to-back shutouts that are not five foot," Vidal-Bush said. "I think she's probably 4-10 and so she doesn't have the torque. She's not supposed to be able to throw the ball hard or make it bend. It's just work ethic. She works so hard. There's a point at least once a week I have to tell her, we've got to lay off a little bit.
"If it were up to her she'd pitch every single night, throw a full bullpen, throw to live batters because she wants to win."
DEER NATION!!!! For the THIRD time in program history @DeerPark_SB are STATE CHAMPIONS as they defeat Converse Judson 1-0 for the Class 6A State Championship #UILState @KPRC2RandyMc @HTownHSS @hannahb_2003 @dpisdathletics @DPISD_South @DPISD @MadisonApplebe @KPRC2Ari pic.twitter.com/tYeLj8UTrl
— VYPE Houston (@vypehouston) June 6, 2021
In the Class 6A State Championship game, Benavides tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing six hits, walking two, and striking out six on 109 pitches.
As the senior ace, who is signed to Abilene Christian University, stood on the field she hugged her MVP plaque tightly to her body with both arms not letting go of this moment.
"This to me means a lot," Benavides said about the MVP award. "I've not had the best high school experience. Coach Vidal really turned this season around and she gave me the chance. I couldn't ask for anything more."
VYPE Postgame 🎙: @DeerPark_SB pitcher @hannahb_2003 tosses back to back shutouts to help @dpisdathletics win its third state crown. She was named Class 6A Championship Game MVP | @DPISD_South @DPISD @MadisonApplebe @KPRC2RandyMc @HTownHSS pic.twitter.com/3RvCDhxXQg
— VYPE Houston (@vypehouston) June 6, 2021
Deer Park finishes the season 40-8 overall in Vidal-Bush's first season at the helm of the program. It is the third title for the Lady Deer joining the 2012 and 2014 teams to do so.
"I took this job because I knew there would be an opportunity to win a state championship," Vidal-Bush said. "That's what this school is. I have the support of the administration and the community is crazy. But I didn't think it would happen in one year. I thought it would take a couple of years. This is just icing on the cake."
This marks the second-straight season that Houston has won the Class 4A (Liberty 10-3 over Calallen), Class 5A (Barbers Hill 4-1 over Aledo), and the Class 6A State Championships. In 2019 it was Huffman, Angleton, and Katy.
For Vidal-Bush when she took over the program, the girls didn't touch a softball for the first eight weeks of the school year. She ran her team, they lifted, she wanted them to be tough.
Tough was enough to win it all.
"I believe tough kids are great kids and they learn how to win," Vidal-Bush said. "So, at some point, you have to teach a kid how to be tough. All of the kids in the program are great softball players but the difference between the good ones and the really great ones is that they're just tough.
"These kids had to learn how to be tough, we had some rough days, but I think they'd say they'd do it all over again for this."
Deer Park had to show their toughness against Converse Judson (35-3), which was making its first-ever UIL State Softball Tournament appearance.
In a scoreless bout, Deer Park in the sixth inning finally broke through as Erin Perez singled up the middle driving in Reanna Nieman, making it 1-0, which would be enough.
Judson would threaten in their final at-bats with the tying run on first and winning run at the plate but Benavides got a pair of flyouts to centerfield where Tabby Bailey squeezed the final outs to clinch the state title.
"I knew [that was it]," Benavides said. "It was not as far as some of the other ones. I think we stuck to the gameplan well tonight."
VYPE Softball Regional Championships Preview: Barbers Hill, Lake Creek, Clear Springs, Deer Park to battle
HOUSTON – Every team is taking it one pitch and one game at a time.
That mindset has rewritten the history books for some teams and for others gotten them back to a familiar place – the Regional Championships.
A series victory this week means a road trip to Austin next week for the 2021 UIL State Softball Tournament.
Programs like Barbers Hill and Deer Park have been there before and won that coveted state championship (Deer Park doing it in 2012 and 2014). For others like Lake Creek, which has only three seniors on the roster, and Clear Springs this is a historic run.
"It's huge, we had a goal in mind at the beginning of the year," Lake Creek coach Michelle Rochinski said. "We've got to play one pitch and one game at a time. We can't look forward to anything else but next round."
Among the group, Lake Creek is the newest of the programs, opening just three years ago and technically in just its second full season of play.
The Lions enter this week as MaxPreps' No. 3 team in Texas at 38-0. Lake Creek defeated Crosby 2-1 last week behind Ava Brown's 10-strikeout, one-run start and Emiley Kennedy's stellar save in which she struck out the side for the win.
"It's our first time this deep into the playoffs and us three seniors just want to go as far as possible," Kennedy, who didn't remember the last time she closed a game, said.
The one-two punch of Kennedy and Brown has been dynamic, combining for a 33-0 record with 10 no-hitters and a ridiculous 352 strikeouts and just 28 walks between the duo. Brown is also just a sophomore, which means the Lions have their ace for the next two years.
At the plate, Brown leads the team in RBIs with 63, followed by Madelyn Lopez's 52 runs driven in. As far as average, Maddie Mckee is hitting .600, which leads the team, just .004 points ahead of Brown's .596 average.
"You definitely respect the numbers," Barbers Hill coach Aaron Fuller said. "The stats and the numbers that they are putting up, nobody else is putting anything up close to that. When people ask me 'how are they?', I tell them they are almost exactly like us. They've got great pitching, defense and a high-powered offense. It's going to be a fun series."
But Lake Creek has never been this far. Their opponent this week in Barbers Hill, which is ranked No. 5 in Texas by MaxPreps has.
Fuller's program is making it fourth-straight appearance in the Region III-5A Championship. In 2018, the Eagles reached the state tournament for the third time in program history.
"That's one thing I told our girls earlier in the week is that we have that edge, we have the experience, we have been here multiple times," Barbers Hill coach Aaron Fuller said. "When this senior class were freshmen, we were in the state tournament. When they were sophomores, they were starting then and in the Regional Finals then.
"I think the fact we have been here gives us a little bit of an advantage as far as experience. Hopefully that gives us a slight advantage but Lake Creek's really talented and good."
Led by Texas-signee Sophia Simpson, who is among the best players in the country, Barbers Hill is 36-2, with the two losses coming to Deer Park, which will play in the Region III-6A Championship, and Dobie in the opening week of the season.
Since February 27, the Eagles haven't lost a single game and allowed just seven runs total in those 32 games.
"I'm confident in my girls and I'm not afraid to put my kids up against anybody in the state," Fuller said. "I feel like as good as their numbers are, that's great, I feel like we can beat them. I know they haven't been beaten but if anybody can beat Lake Creek two out of three, it's going to be us."
The Eagles have been guided by Texas State-signee Kaitlyn Dutton, ULL-signee Samantha Landry, Michigan State-signee Faith Guidry, East Texas Baptist University-signee Amber Thibodeaux, and Simpson.
Even though those are the headliners, the Eagles have had a lot of different heroes in 2021.
"Every game it seems like there's a different offensive hero, which is nice," Fuller said. "Obviously Samantha [Landry] and Sophia [Simpson] have been dominant throughout the season and the playoffs. But offensively, Estela Garza, our catcher, Delaney Dunham, and Kaylee Hornberger have been swinging the bat really well. Katelynn Cooper came up with a big hit against Waller in the second game.
"I think we're clicking and hitting our stride at the right time."
Barbers Hill faces Lake Creek in a best-of-three series starting on Wednesday evening at 6 pm. All three games will be played at Cy Ridge High School. Game two is slated for Thursday at 5 pm and game three, if needed, would be held 30 minutes after game two.
In Class 6A, it is down to Clear Springs and Deer Park for a spot at the state tournament.
This has been a historic run for Clear Springs under coach Jennifer Knight. It is the first time the Chargers' program has been past the second round of the playoffs and they are 30-0 on the year.
"It has been crazy and fun," Knight said. "I think somewhere along the way we knew it could be done, especially after last season. We got a taste of how good we would be (in 2020) and coming into the season that if we all bought in and all played hard we could do some things that have never been done before."
To get to this round, Clear Springs has defeated Pearland Dawson, Kingwood, Dobie and then Katy.
"We had a hard route to get here," Knight said. "For us, we're just like what else are you going to throw at us. We're ready for it."
Leading the charge has been LSU-commit Emma Strood, Texas Tech-signee Demi Elder and Independence CC-signee Kelly Baker.
Strood has been electric in the circle. The junior is 21-0 with a 0.52 ERA, 234 strikeouts, 20 walks and just 10 earned runs allowed in 134 1/3 innings. Sophomore Anna Soles is 8-0 with a 1.63 ERA in 34 1/3 innings just behind her.
"I knew that she could be that great," Knight said about Strood. "She's super competitive, she wants to win, pushes her team and just the energy that she gives us on the mound, we just all feed off of that. We all just want to be great for each other."
At the dish, Strood leads the team with 31 RBIs, 10 doubles, and six home runs with a .446 batting average. Soles is right behind with 23 RBIs, five home runs, and hitting .412. Ashley Walker has 21 RBIs for the Chargers hitting .307; Elder is hitting .472 with 19 RBIs and seven doubles; Claire Pollack has 19 RBIs while hitting .341; Bailey Boetjer has 18 RBIs and freshman Emma King has 17 RBIs while hitting .423.
There is no pitching around somebody in this lineup.
"That's what we really focused on this year, we didn't want to have a weak spot in the lineup," Knight said. "We wanted everybody to produce. Really throughout the season, somebody different has stepped up big in different times when we needed it. Everybody has taken on their different roles and run with it this season."
But once again, this is Clear Springs' first time to come this far and for their opponent Deer Park, this is trip No. 6 to the Regional Finals.
The Deer are back again for a second straight time to the Region III-6A Championship. Deer Park looks to get back to state for the first time since the 2017 campaign and seeking its first state title since 2014.
Deer Park enters this series 36-7 overall and its offense has been electric this postseason.
In the opening series against North Shore, the Deer won 13-1 and 15-2; against Pearland won 1-0 and 5-0; against Brazoswood won 2-0, lost 6-3, and took a decisive game three, 9-7. Against Ridge Point in the Regional Semis, it was a sweep for Deer Park winning 18-4 and 17-4.
Add it up, the Deer have outscored foes 73-24 in nine games.
Hannah Benavides and Madison Applebe have been the one-two punch out in the circle for the Deer. At the plate, Bryanna Fuentes, Haidyn Hardcastle, Tabatha Bailey, Lorelai Graham and Addison Lehew have been huge.
Deer Park and Clear Springs face off in a best-of-three series starting on Friday at 6:30 pm. Game two and three, if needed, would be played Saturday at 4 pm and then 30 minutes after. All games will be played at Shadow Creek High School.