AUSTIN, Texas – For the first time in program history, the D'Hanis Cowgirls are state champions.
And for the second straight game, victory did not come easy.
After building comfortable 7-0 and 8-3 leads, the Cowgirls weathered the storm in the top of the seventh, surviving a three-run Chireno rally to top the Owls 9-7 and claim the Class 1A State Championship.
"It took a lot of heart and a lot of determination from our kids," said head coach Jose Martinez. "It took a lot of what we preached at the start of the season. I told them we had a chance to be good. I didn't know how good we could be. Getting to the state semis was our first goal. Getting to the final was our second goal. Winning it was our third. I guess we accomplished all three."
The turning point in the final frame came on a wild double play. With the bases loaded and nobody out, freshman pitcher Marissa Santos induced a shallow pop-up, but dropped it. She threw home to notch the first out, but the batter was subsequently called out by the umpires on the "infield fly" rule. The call was protested but stood, and Santos promptly struck out the next batter to end the threat and the game.
"I remembered we had no outs, so I just dropped it right there. Once the coaches started arguing, I knew we had two outs," Santos explained. "It was really tough, but nobody was getting aggravated. Every time somebody made an error, we told them it was okay. It takes a team to accomplish everything. I don't think we could have done it without the big heart that this town has."
"That last inning was going to test us, but I had confidence in us," said senior Chloe Cowan. "We are a scrappy team. Everybody here was 100% invested in getting this gold medal today."
Santos was pivotal in keeping the Owls' offense at bay, striking out eight batters and only allowing three earned runs in a complete game victory. She also provided a sizeable chunk of the Cowgirls' offense, driving in three runs. For her performance, she was named the game's most valuable player.
"It may surprise some people, but it doesn't surprise me," Martinez said. "She's been pitching in some big-time tournaments all across the nation. That's just in her demeanor. She did a great job today, just like she's done all year."
After the game, the team shared the moment with the D'Hanis faithful, singing the school song before setting off for a joyous celebration.
"It's more than what I thought it was going to be," Martinez said. "I'd been told what to expect, but it's not even close to what we received. I'm so excited. To see girls like that walking up with smiles on their face is a great feeling."
"We have been to the state tournament before, but now we finally get to win," said Cowan. "It was so much fun. Our whole team is so excited for this. Our whole community -- almost our entire town -- was up in the stands cheering us on. This is a big win for the team, but it's also a giant win for our community, too."
Cowan, one of four seniors who finished their careers on top of the high school softball world, leaves with a pair of UIL state records, as well. She set the new runs record, scoring four times in the championship game, and tied the individual stolen bases record (three) along with teammate Madi Rhodes.
"It's everything I could have ever imagined," Cowan said. "I get to say that we won the state tournament in my last softball game ever. We are the state champions. We are the No. 1 team in the state right now. That is all I can ask for. It's so amazing."
As one championship is etched in D'Hanis history, another opportunity opens, this time for the baseball team. The Cowboys take the field at Dell Diamond in Round Rock for the Class 1A State semifinal Wednesday afternoon at noon. They'll face Dodd City, the same opponent the Cowgirls faced in their semifinals on Friday afternoon.
You can expect the softball team to be there along with the rest of the D'Hanis community to cheer the boys on.
"Last night, we went to Target and bought a bunch of stuff to make noisemakers," Cowan said. "We'll just recycle them to next game. We'll be ready to go. We're excited for the boys team, too. It's exciting to have both teams going."
Regardless, the memories of this championship run will resonate forever within the hearts and minds of the 18 players and coaches who walked off Red & Charline McCombs Field on Saturday afternoon.