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HOUSTON, Texas — Deer Park’s Reanna Nieman started her team’s regional championship showdown against Pearland with the ball in her hand.

Despite a turbulent beginning to Game 1, though, the senior pitcher was determined to finish what she started in the Region III-6A Championship series.

Nieman was nearly untouchable in her return to the circle Friday night at the University of Houston’s Cougar Softball Field. She hurled seven shutout innings to help lift the Lady Deer past the Oilers in a 3-0 Game 2 win to sweep their best-of-three series in the Texas high school softball playoffs

The victory also vaults Deer Park — the defending Class 6A softball state champion — back into the UIL softball state tournament for the second straight season.

“It feels amazing, first of all, after that first game I threw. But it feels amazing now getting back that feeling of going to state,” Nieman said. “It means that we have to show up every game no matter what.”

Nieman stymied a hard-hitting, prolific Pearland lineup to help Deer Park seize an early lead and never look back.

After the Oilers tagged her for four earned runs through 2 ⅓ innings in Game 1, she roared back Friday to notch three strikeouts and allow three hits — all singles — as part of a 116-pitch masterpiece.

Nieman consistently kept her opponents off balance at the plate. She peppered the top of the zone with rise balls and painted the corners with her devastating repertoire of off-speed pitches.

“My changeup and my screwball definitely were my two pitches that I felt were really on tonight,” she said.

Nieman’s teammates provided plenty of support too, as Deer Park’s clutch situational hitting and slick glovework defensively helped bury the Oilers for good.

Photo by Andrew McCulloch

Photo by Andrew McCulloch

The Lady Deer landed baserunners on third base in the first, second and third innings, but capitalized in the top of the second with two runners in scoring position and seized an early 1-0 edge on right fielder Lindsey McKnight’s sac fly to left.

They reached base safely in six of seven innings Friday night but thrived most at the plate with two outs.

Deer Park strung together three walks and nearly half the team’s nine hits during two-out scenarios. The Lady Deer plated all their runs with two outs too, including a pair of seventh-inning insurance runs on a single by Erin Perez and a double by Angelina Morales.

Morales finished a 3-for-4 performance with an RBI and a double to lead the Lady Deer offensively, while center fielder Emma Overla slapped a game-high two doubles.

“If we’re under pressure or anything like that, we know they can get the job done,” Nieman said.

Photo by Andrew McCulloch

Photo by Andrew McCulloch

Deer Park’s infielders and outfielders combined for a slew of web gems that helped keep the team’s narrow lead intact from wire to wire.

Nieman and senior second baseman Kayla Zaid, a Houston Cougars signee, combined forces for a third-inning double play to prevent Pearland from getting on the board.

The Lady Deer were bolstered by big plays defensively at shortstop, as well as left and right field, throughout the night.

“It shows that they have my back all the time,” Nieman said. “It feels amazing to know that I have a really special defense behind me.”

The season-ending loss dropped Pearland to 32-10 overall and concluded the program’s deepest postseason run of the last decade.

Starting pitcher Abigail Gutierrez was saddled with the loss in the circle for the Oilers after tallying four strikeouts, four walks and two earned runs allowed.

Photo by Andrew McCulloch

Photo by Andrew McCulloch

Deer Park, meanwhile, improved to 40-4 overall this year with the series-clinching victory and matched the team’s win total from its 2021 state championship season.

The Lady Deer now advance to the UIL state tournament for the sixth time in program history, where they will look to become the third team ever to win back-to-back Class 6A softball state titles.

“We’ve worked hard all year for it. We’ve done all the running, all the lifting, all the everything that we’ve done… to be where we are,” Nieman said.

“I feel like we have a lot more than we did last year. And I feel like it's showing in our hitting, defense, pitching… in everything.”

Deer Park will return to the diamond for a 6A state semifinal matchup against El Paso Americas, Flower Mound Marcus, Mansfield Lake Ridge or San Antonio O’Connor on Friday night at the University of Texas’ Red & Charlene McCombs Field in Austin.