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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Evan HolmesEllie Clay gets a base hit to center field off of Hallsville pitcher Abby Leer.

Last Thursday night, the Lady Pintos softball team faced one of their greatest challenges of the regular season, as they played host to the Hallsville Lady Indians.

Hallsville sat in second place in the Tri-County Conference entering Thursday's matchup with a record of 15-5, trailing only the Blair Oaks Lady Falcons, who are currently 25-4. California, meanwhile, was in the middle of the pack in the conference standings with a record of 12-10. However, the Lady Pintos did have some momentum entering the game riding a three-game winning streak.

The challenge would prove too great, though, as the streak was snapped and Hallsville grabbed its 16th win with a 9-3 victory.

After both teams scored a run in the first inning, the Lady Pintos took the lead in one fell swoop. Starting pitcher Ellie Clay was at the plate with junior Ella Percival at first base. Clay hit a base hit to right field and when the throw to second base got away from the shortstop, Clay and Percival kept on running. Clay and Percival both scored on an inside-the-park home run from Clay to give California a 3-1 lead.

The Lady Pintos carried that lead into the fifth inning, where the tide began to turn. Hallsville found a way to manufacture three runs with two outs in the top of the fifth and would take the lead 4-3.

With the score still 4-3 in the seventh, a close call on an out at first base went in California's favor and gave them the first out of the inning. From that point on, though, it was all Lady Indians. Hallsville scored five runs in the seventh inning after the call, as the Lady Pintos struggled to get the last two outs of the inning.

After holding California scoreless in the bottom of the seventh, Hallsville walked off with a 9-3 victory, ending California's three game winning streak.

Lady Pintos head coach Steven Stock said when Hallsville went on their scoring runs late in the game, his team lost their mental toughness and beat themselves from that point on.

"We jumped out and really for four innings out-hit them, outplayed them, and did a great job on the mound," Stock said. "Then in the fifth inning, we were sitting in a good spot and they hit a little chunk ball for a base hit and then allowed a walk, which caused them to score three. It was a rough inning. Then we had that catastrophe in the seventh where we lost all our momentum and we fell apart mentally and it cost us."

Among the key takeaways and lessons from Thursday's loss were learning how to close games and playing games with mental toughness for seven straight innings, Stock said.

"You've (got to) understand adversity. You throw a pitch that you think is a strike and they don't call it, you have to go on," Stock said. "If you let it affect you for the next two or three batters, next thing you know, you give up a few runs and your chances of competing and winning are gone. You've got to control what you can control."

With that, the Lady Pintos set their sights toward Versailles for the Class 3 District 5 Tournament. Their run for the district crown will begin tonight when they play the Versailles Lady Tigers.

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