LAREDO – When the Taylor All-Stars dropped into the losers' bracket Friday at the Pony South Zone Softball World Series, head coach Tommy Filla knew the odds were stacked against his team.
In order to capture the Bronco 12U championship, the Lady Ducks had to win six consecutive games on Saturday – starting at 8 a.m. – in the sweltering Rio Grande Valley heat.
"The losers' bracket is the devil," Filla said with a chuckle.
But his team danced with the devil and made an improbable run to the Final Four, knocking off the Hutto All-Stars (22-5), Hebbronville Havoc (6-5) and Weslaco Xtreme Heat (5-4) to set up a showdown with the Round Rock Fury.
While the Lady Ducks finally ran out of steam in a 5-3 defeat, they still finished fourth out of 18 teams.
"I had a front-row seat to one of the best shows this weekend and it was amazing," Filla said. "In my opinion we were one of the top two teams, but that's why you play the games. It was still quite a run this year. We're really happy [with fourth]."
Filla is left to wonder, though, what could have been.
Taylor opened the tournament on a roll Thursday, coasting past Hutto (11-0), San Juan (3-1) and Laredo Federation (5-0) in pool play. Later that evening, the Lady Ducks routed Federation again 17-4 to clinch a spot in the double-elimination round.
But a stunning 7-6 loss to Mexico the following afternoon dropped them into the losers' bracket, and put their championship hopes on life support.
"In all honesty, Mexico didn't beat us as much as we beat ourselves," Filla said. "We had some blunders that cost us that game."
Instead of throwing in the towel, though, the Lady Ducks reeled off three straight wins on Saturday to punch a ticket to the Final Four. They used a 22-run outburst to fly by Hutto, hung on for a narrow victory over Hebbronville, and then overcame a 4-0 deficit and an injury scare against Weslaco.
Second baseman Hope Scruggs and shortstop Montana Moore collided late in the Weslaco game, but both players stayed in and helped Taylor stage a dramatic comeback.
"We thought they were hurt and out for good, but they refused to leave the game," Filla said. "Next thing you know, we start hitting."
Clarissa Miller hit a game-tying, three-run triple to send the game to overtime. In the extra inning, Filla's daughter, Payton, ripped a line drive to left-center field to bring in Moore for the winning run.
Payton also got the start at pitcher. She was relieved by Alex Harwell, but later returned to close out the game.
"That was probably the best game I've ever been a part of," Filla said.
Mattie Wilkie also played a key role in Granger's run to the Final Four, hitting three inside-the-park home runs on Saturday.
"Mattie's bat was on cue this weekend," Filla said. "That's why she bats from my number-four spot. She really came through for us. Every one of these kids did, whether it was hitting, running, or pitching.
Fatigue eventually caught up with the Lady Ducks in their Final Four loss to Round Rock, but they left the Gateway City with their heads held high after an impressive showing at the World Series.
"This was a great experience," Filla said. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat. And we might be doing it again next year, you never know."