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Keller and Plano West face off in the regional semis – 8 years ago this week they played in one of the best series I’ve seen

May 14th, 2016.

I still re-share memories from that day. It was just my second season covering high school softball, but that day gave me arguably the greatest sports covering day of my career. I’m now in year #10.

With Keller and Plano West facing off this week in the Class 6A Region 1 semifinals – it took me back to memory lane.

8 years ago, they faced off in a three-game set during the regional quarterfinal – so one round before this week’s games. They were all at Prosper High School. I got the chance to watch both Game 1 and Game 3. The first game gave us a nail biter. Both teams had great players that would go on to play in college. The pitching matchup featured Keller’s Kaylee Rogers and Plano West’s Sierra Lange. Rogers pitched some at Eastern New Mexico while Lange starred at George Washington and later became a coach at Yale. Lange also pitched for the Philippines National team.

Keller’s Shelby Henderson is still regarded as the best clutch playoff hitter during my time in DFW. Henderson played college at Lamar and Texas Tech. She belted a rocket to deep left late in Game 1 to fuel Keller to a 4-2 win during the opener.

Lange bounced back in strong fashion and tossed a 4-0 shutout in Game 2 to even the series and send it to Game 3 on a Saturday. A Saturday in which the Keller girls were having prom that night. However, overnight rainstorms came in the area. I don’t think Game 3 was pushed back at all, but I could be wrong. Prosper has turf so it should have been good. If anything, it wasn’t much.

Game 3 was the best yet.

The Wolves led 2-1 entering the bottom of the seventh. It was Keller’s last hope. The Indians had two runners on base, but facing two outs. Luckily, the best hitter came to the plate – Henderson. But now she had two strikes on her.

Down to the final strike of the season – the final strike of her career being a senior. Lange hurled an outside pitch and Henderson connected. There was some wind that day and it might have grabbed a hold of the ball. But the way Henderson hit it, it was like a slice you see when you play tennis or ping pong and it went into right and near the right field line. The Plano West right-fielder looked to mis-read the ball off the bat, coming in, but it sailed and landed in fair ground – resulting in the 2-run walk-off double and sending Keller to the regional semifinals. I can still remember Henderson cheering and jumping up and down on second base. The coach then Bryan Poehler punching the air with his right fist as the second run was running between third and home.

Finally Keller got to celebrate with Henderson and Poehler gave her an emphatic hug – as Henderson’s legs swung from left to right. The win seemed to push the Indians to the top as they beat Lubbock Coronado comfortably in Game 1 and 3 (10-0, 16-2) and then rival Timber Creek 8-5 in one game to clinch a spot in the state tournament for the first time in 10 years.

The day only got better because I got to see Timber Creek and Mansfield at Coppell in Game 3. Madie Green blasted the walk off 3-run home run to send Creek to the next round.

The Indians went on to beat Humble Atascocita in eight innings at state and then shutout Pearland 5-0 for the 6A championship in Austin – the program’s third title overall.

Keller and Plano West would meet again the following year during the regional final. The three game series was held at Flower Mound.

West took the opener 4-3 before Keller dominated the next two 8-1 and 8-0 to clinch another trip to state. It was a different team having graduated four starters in 2016 (Rogers, Henderson, Mikayla McClasky, Kennedy Legg). But 2017 had its own talent like returners Kasey Simpson, Amanda Desario, Camryn Woodall, Caraline Woodall, Hanna Jones, Courtney Cagle and sophomore pitcher Dylann Kaderka (who went on to win more games in program history than any other pitcher). Into the mix was freshman Riley Love, who also became one of the best players all-time.

No one really gave Keller a threat at the 2017 state tourney as the Indians beat Deer Park 5-2 in the semifinals and Austin Bowie 5-1 in the title match for their fourth softball championship.

This year’s matchup is a one-game playoff at 7 pm Friday from the Coppell Softball Complex by the ninth grade campus. Keller was the 4-6A champ while Plano West finished third in 6-6A. The Indians are coming off a Game 3 win over Eaton while the Wolves beat Hebron 1-0. Both teams won by shutout and beat district opponents. West has had a tough playoff path with Allen, SGP and Hebron but have answered the call every time.

Pitcher Carra Cleaves has shutout all three teams in Game 3.

Keller’s Sadie Beck has pitched in nearly 100% of the innings for the Indians this season and posted a 4-0 win over Eaton.

Kaaya Mehta is the power hitter for West. Also look for Keller’s Mackenna Jackson, Kaiya Fabela and Carley Genzer to highlight the Indians lineup.

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