GROVE- After getting their first taste of playoff pressure in Wednesday night's 4-2 win over the Collinsville Lady Cardinals at the 5A softball regionals, Grove head coach Jeremy Collins predicted his team would come out more relaxed in Thursday's championship game.
If they were relaxed before the game, Taylor Dodson's first at-bat must have put them completely at ease.
Dodson blasted a three-run home run to centerfield in the top of the first inning, giving the Lady Red a lead they would never lose in a 6-0 victory over Collinsville that clinched the regional championship and sent Grove to the state tournament for the first time since 2006.
"I felt like today we were a little more lose," Collins said. "Our kids had more of a normal day, schedule-wise and I feel like that helped us come out ready play. We talked about jumping on them early and Taylor Dodson did that right off the bat. When you get that first run, it makes things a lot easier for everybody."
Dodson's heroics were set up by senior catcher Katie Stout's lead off single through the middle of the infield. The next batter, Ashleigh Tramel, laid down a sacrifice bunt attempt, but pinch runner Emilee Iverson beat the throw to second, putting two runners on with no outs and setting the table for Dodson.
For Stout, a four-year starter for the Lady Red, Thursday's win was a long time coming. "It feels amazing. The last three years have been a struggle, but it's been three rebuilding years to get to this amazing moment."
Stout would add an RBI double in the second inning, scoring Kaitlin Threet. Stout would later score on a throwing error on a steal of third to make the score 5-0.
That would be all the runs starting pitcher Jessica Walker would need. Walker struck out 10 Lady Cardinals for the second day in a row, allowing three walks and two hits in the complete game shutout. Collinsville's biggest threat came in the fifth inning, when an infield single and a double put runners on second and third with two outs. Walker induced the next batter into a pop up to Dodson at third base, ending the inning.
Dodson would then add a solo home run to left field in the fourth inning for the final margin.
Collinsville reached Thursday's title game with a win over Bishop Kelley in an elimination game earlier on Thursday.
Stout for one agreed with her coach's assessment of her team's nervousness on Wednesday night. "Last night was really hard for me because I knew out team could do this, we just came out nervous. Today we came out ready to play."
The Lady Red will open play at the state tournament on Thursday at 2 p.m. at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City with the opponent to be determined.