Taylee Heckman turned in a Babe Ruth "all-around" performance Saturday afternoon at Legends Park for the Dodge City Lady Conquistadors in their regional series against Cloud County.
Heckman threw 11 innings to be the winning pitcher in both games and hit four home runs to help the Lady Conqs beat the Lady Thunderbirds 10-8 and 8-5 to earn a sweep of the best-of-3 series and send her team to the bracket play format for the Division E tournament next weekend in Topeka.
"I have been strugging lately at the bat, and I just had the confidence to go up there and do what I knew I could do," Heckman said. "I knew how bad my team wanted it. I knew in pitching, I just needed to go as hard as I could to get these wins."
The freshman from Las Vegas threw four innings of relief after hitting a three-run home run in the third of the first game; then hit three home runs and threw all seven innings to earn the decision in the second game.
Heckman hasn't had the best of times when she has been listed as the pitcher and cleanup hitter for the Lady Conqs. It seems in many games when called to do both this season, when she did well at the plate, her throwing faltered; when she threw well against opponents, her hitting suffered.
That was kind of how Heckman started in the first game, giving up six runs runs in the first game and then four runs in the first inning of the second to give the Lady T-Birds the early lead. Heckman then hit a three-run home run in a four-run bottom of the opening frame and hit solo shots in the third and fifth innings and clamped down on the mound, giving up only one more run in her final six innings of work.
"It was nerve-wrecking coming in that second game after we had just won that first game knowing that we could get this game and we're done or we'd have to come back (Sunday) to play again," Heckman said. "I felt better getting that first inning out of the way even though they scored four. I just wasn't so nervous about it."
Catcher Amanda Best closed out her career at Legends Park with two home runs and five runs batted in the first game, a three-run home run in the fourth and a two-run game-winning home run in the bottom of the sixth. She went 4-of-7 and also scored three runs in her final games on her home field.
Best admitted that the successful series was a bittersweet moment for her because it was her final games at Legends Park. Going into next week's tournament, Best has hit 35 home runs and knocked in 104 with a .464 batting average for her Dodge City career.
"I wouldn't trade this experience for the world," Best said. "I love this place and I love my team. I don't want to say bye to any of these girls. This team is like my second family; my teammates are my sisters and I wouldn't want to trade my coaches for anything. It's been one long, big memory."
The Lady Conqs (23-20) used the home run throughout the day against the Lady T-Birds (14-22) just like using their offense all season to win games.
Sixteen of the 18 runs (including all the runs in the first game) came by hitting the ball over the fence. Rio Beck hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning of the first game; while Brandy Huff hit a solo home run in the first inning of the second contest.
Dodge City's other two runs in the second game came on RBI sacrifice flies by Mackenzie Maes in the fourth and Kayli Keate in the sixth.
"That's what this team has done all year; we get behind and then we come back," said Dodge City head coach Howie Smith. "I've said all year that I have confidence from one through nine with our lineup. We don't ever feel like we're out of it and know we have to score runs to win. It's been the same formula we've used all year."
The Lady Conqs will play in the district double-elimination tournament starting at noon Saturday against No. 13 Highland. The other teams in the tournament include the winner of the Brown Mackie-Hesston series that is tied 1-1 after Saturday's games and the No. 12 Labette-Allen County series which starts Sunday.