AUSTIN — Every single pitch Danielle Nors threw for the West softball team was crucial.
Considering that her Santa Gertrudis Academy counterpart was throwing a gem of her own when their teams met for the Class 3A semifinal Wednesday at the University of Texas’ McCombs Field, one botched play could turn disastrous for either side.
The Lady Trojans’ ace didn’t falter. She pitched a complete-game shutout, striking out six and giving up three hits and West held off Santa Gertrudis, 2-0, to advance to the 3A championship game.
“I just think that I have to try my hardest to get them at the plate,” Nors said. “Nerves are pretty scary, but you just have to stay calm throughout the whole thing and try your hardest.”
Cassie Pavlas was 2-for-3 and batted in both runs for the Lady Trojans (35-7), who return to McCombs Field at 6 p.m. Thursday for the championship game against Colorado City, a 5-2 winner over Brock in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
West is making its first state final appearance since 2011 and its third overall, but the Lady Trojans have yet to claim the top prize. It’s the only thing missing in the trophy case of head coach Guyla Smith, who started the program in 1991 and is the state’s all-time winningest coach after two-and-a-half decades of winning softball.
“It would be so great to get her the win,” Nors said. “She deserves it. She’s out there working with us every day, giving us motivation to win. So we really hope we can win it for her this year.”
Wednesday’s hour-and-a-half, low-scoring contest quickly turned into a defensive battle and pitchers’ duel between Nors and Santa Gertrudis’ Saidi Castillo, who struck out eight hitters and have up five hits in the losing effort.
Nors (34-5) gave up a single to the Lady Lions’ Kristen Gonzalez in the top of the fourth inning, then didn’t allow another hit until the seventh. She forced Santa Gertrudis (29-10-1) into 13 pop flies, ruthlessly leaving the Kingsville-based Region IV-3A champions without quality pitches to hit for the bulk of the game.
The Lady Lions finally got to Nors in the seventh, as Castillo and Mia Norman each drilled singles with two outs to put the game-tying run on base. She settled down and struck out Aliya Borjon for the final out.
“She’s been big all year,” Smith said. “She just came through again for us.”
Castillo (25-7), meanwhile, held West hitless until the fourth inning, when Mia Pokluda connected for a single to left. Maddison Kettler followed with another one in the same spot.
Then the Lady Trojans played small ball, moving the runners over on Julia Wernet’s sacrifice bunt. That set up Pavlas’ perfectly-executed bunt that rolled past the Santa Gertrudis first baseman and bought Pokluda just enough time to score.
Bunt or a bomb
“My teammates did their job and got on base,” Pavlas said. “My job is to just get a hit and knock them in, whether it’s a line drive to the outfield or just a bunt past the infield.”
Pavlas scored Wernet — who had the only extra-base hit in the game, a double — to give West a 2-0 lead in the sixth. At that point, she had more hits herself than the entire Santa Gertrudis team.
“We don’t have one hero, we have a bunch,” Smith said. “We have a team, and not just one superstar. You never know who’s going to come out and do it for us, and we’re fortunate somebody did it for us today, and it was Cassie.”
West needs the heroes to come through for one more game, as the Lady Trojans push one step closer to the team’s long-awaited first state title.
“I hope they’re ready,” Smith said. “It’s not up to me anymore. They’ve got to do their job. If they do their job, we’re going to get it done.”