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2A STATE SOFTBALL: Needles strikes early, tops Lincoln County

Needles holds the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association record with 11 state championships in softball, its last coming in 2013.

The Mustangs will look to add another after winning a 16-14 slugfest against Lincoln County on Friday in the Class 2A state tournament semifinals at The Meadows.

Needles (25-3) overcame eight errors, and deficits in the first and second innings, to defeat the Lynx for the fifth time this season, and third time in eight days. After splitting the regular-season series, the Mustangs beat Lincoln County twice in last week’s Southern Region tournament, including the championship game.

The teams will meet again on Saturday at 10 a.m., this time for the state championship. Lincoln County (24-10) must beat the Mustangs twice for the championship.

“It’s hard to beat a team three times (in the postseason), and I felt early on the girls were a little nervous. We made some errors we don’t normally make,” Needles coach Tony Rubalcaba said. “We’ve got to clean up the defense. We’ve got to clean it up and we’ll be OK.”

Lincoln County jumped on Needles sophomore Kortney Fletcher by scoring four runs in each of the first two innings. But the Mustangs flexed their offensive muscle, too, scoring four in the bottom of the first and eight in the second frame, giving Fletcher a 12-8 lead to work with.

Needles got a three-run double from Bruke Zozaya in the first inning, while Nicole Hooper’s grand slam powered the Mustangs’ big second inning.

“Some of these girls are still young, they’ve never been in this situation before, and now they got their feet and hopefully (Saturday) in the championship game we’ll play solid defense,” Rubalcaba said. “Luckily, our bats picked us up today.”

Hooper finished 2-for-4 with two runs and four RBIs, while Zozaya was 3-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs. Leadoff hitter Jaycee Fragoso was also 3-for-4 with three runs and an RBI, while cleanup batter Paige Murch had three RBIs and scored three runs for Needles.

“We usually rely on Kortney, she’s our main person, and we just back her up,” Hooper said. “But today we just stayed confident in each other, trusted one another, and stayed relaxed while we were out there.”

Brenna Chavez was the lone player in the Mustangs’ lineup without a hit, and she still got aboard after getting hit by a pitch twice, drawing two walks and scoring three times.

The Lynx were led by Kailey Kelley, who went 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBIs, and Kristal Jackson, who also went 3-for-4 with three runs scored.

Lincoln County scored three runs in the top of the fifth to get as close as 13-12. But Needles answered with two more runs in the fifth and another in the sixth.

“Our defense could’ve been a lot better, but we still came back and we still fought,” Zozaya said. “As long as one person doesn’t get down, we all stay up. We made a too many errors, but we still played the game we know how to play.”

While Fletcher was tagged for 12 hits and 14 runs (nine earned) she remained poised enough to last the entire game and struck out 11.

“She’s a team leader, and she knows defense makes errors, but she also knows they’ll come right back and make solid plays,” Rubalcaba said. “She knows when she throws strikes her defense will be there for her.”

Lincoln County 20, Yerington 0 — At The Meadows, Cameron Lloyd went 4-for-4 with a double, two home runs, three runs and three RBIs, and the Lynx routed the Lions in five innings to advance to the championship.

Kia Phillips was 3-for-4 with three runs scored, and Kelley added her second homer of the day and scored four times.

Hannah Lytle was masterful in limiting Yerington (27-7) to one hit — the only baserunner for the Lions — while she struck out two.

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