Seniors Julia Bilbao and Mariah Youngblood were the heroes for the Texas Southern softball team as both came through in the clutch against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to win in extra innings 6-5 on Wednesday afternoon.
In a back-and-forth game that included five pitchers, 26 total hits, one walk, three lead changes, and nine innings, it was an unlikely combination of Lady Tigers (11-16), Bilbao and debutant reliever Mariah Youngblood, who put the fitting end to an exhausting but exciting contest with the visiting Islanders (17-25) and sent the Memorial Park crowd into a blissful frenzy.
For Youngblood, she earned the win in her first appearance of the year after throwing three shutout innings for two hits on the mound, a surprising result considering it was her first appearance in more than year. In observing the strange sight of a player making their debut at the end of the season, one would have to be inclined to find the Mission, Texas native’s last appearance (which happened on February 21, 2020 when she pitched for 1.1 innings against North Texas). Considering the realization of an unfathomable situation, it wouldn’t have been surprising for its protagonist to shudder in high anxiety.
Though the pressure and gravity of extra innings was prevalent in Youngblood’s mind, her pitching stayed extra firm, astoundingly keeping the TAMCC bats at bay through the extra inning period and, most importantly, setting the stage for the Lady Tigers’ offensive heroics.
Following two quick opening outs in the bottom of the ninth, TSU’s Tevanae Tate drove a first-pitch double that sailed well into deep left-center field. That play transported the ball to move just past the warning track, causing the trailing TAMCC outfielder to lose sight of her surroundings and collide to the outermost netting, allowing Tate to advance to third.
With a runner in prime scoring position, in walked Bilbao to the batter’s box, who by then had gone 0-for-4 in the game. But irrespective of her cold performance, she was handed a riveting opportunity to become her team’s hero after engaging in an absolute marathon of a game, to which for her credit, she seized. Facing a 1-0 count, Bilbao delivered the walk-off score against TAMCC’s Audrey McNeill by driving the ball to shallow right field for Tate to walk towards home plate before getting mobbed by her teammates while roaming the infield dirt.
Texas Southern’s victory was headed by Tate’s 3-for-4 line which included that pivotal double and run from the bottom ninth and Ja’Lynn Swinney with her own 3-for-4 on a double and two runs scored.
Outfielder Ashling Shahan, second baseman Crimson Davis (with this, she has her ninth multi-hit game), and designated player Pamela Richardson each went for two hits against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
For the pitching, starter Chelsea Baxter and her immediate reliever Lailah Bell each lasted for three innings prior to Youngblood’s appearance. Baxter endured the game’s rocky first third, having given up four earned runs on seven hits and a walk to the visiting Islanders in addition to striking out one batter. After Baxter was pulled for Bell, the latter eased the situation for the Lady Tigers and helped them steer through the fourth to sixth innings, dropping a run on three hits and a strikeout.
Despite surrendering the go-ahead run to TSU, TAMCC reliever Audrey McNeill pitched for six innings and struck out four while allowing six hits.
The Lady Tigers will remain at home on April 30 at 3 p.m. to face the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions for the start of a three-game set. Weather is expected to play a major factor in this weekend’s game so stay tuned to TSU Athletics on its social media channels if changes are made.