Softball to face potential playoff opponent

Lady Leopards travel to McKinney this weekend for a tournament


Stu Mair

Rebecca Holliman practices covering first base in the week leading up to the McKinney tournament.

Nick Smith, Lead Reporter

With 7 wins and 5 losses on the season, the softball team travels to McKinney this weekend for a tournament against potential playoff opponents in hopes to build experience before district competition begins next week.

“We’ve got five games at McKinney this weekend and all five teams are legitimate playoff contenders this year, which will provide another weekend of solid competition for us,” head softball coach Jeff Roberts said. “Our first game is Denton Guyer, which is one of the 15 schools in the entire state, of any classification, that is still undefeated in softball. We will most likely see Forney in the first or second round of playoffs and should be a great challenge for us as they have a new head coach who was previously at Garland and won a couple state titles. Our last three games will also be good contests as Celina will probably win their district, Redwater has a D-II senior committed pitcher, and Canyon finished second in their district last year before going two rounds deep into playoffs.”

Since the season began, varsity softball has played stiff competition at both the annual Bryan/College Station tournament as well as a local Mesquite tournament. Roberts said this scheduling is intentional as his preseason focus is the broaden the girls’ experience.

“We have played what I would call one of the more difficult schedules of almost anyone around the area right now,” Roberts said. “Some programs take tournaments as an opportunity to build their record against below caliber opponents. Other teams, like us this year, really wanted to schedule the best of the best, not overly concerned with our record as it does not count until district, but really playing the best pitching and the best experienced opponents we could face, so we know what we are going to see later on. I’ve seen teams go 23-0 before districts but fall in the first round of playoffs, so we want to focus on peaking our play in April/May rather than right now.”

While the first game of district play against Denison is fast approaching, the team is still without one of their top home run hitter from last year due to ACL injury, sophomore Alyssa DiFiore. The Lady Leopards are also missing starting pitcher freshman Mattison Boyd, who suffered a back injury due to overuse. As Boyd is still day-to-day, juniors Emily Weichel, Mallory Lusby, and Kallie Killingsworth have been filling in at pitcher despite it not being their first positions.

“I’ve been out for eight weeks as the recovery process has been very slow,” Boyd said. “The first six weeks I didn’t do any physical activity and now I have been slowly getting back into things with doing some limited pitching. The other girls who have filled in have done especially well considering none of them prefer to pitch. They have stepped into a very important role and are working very hard, which shows in how well they are performing.”

The program initially planned to play in a Mesquite tournament last weekend until the games were cancelled due to wet fields. Roberts said he didn’t want to waste a weekend while all other teams in the state were continuing their preparation for playoffs, so within two hours 19 games were organized to be played at Lovejoy’s softball stadium with the same scheduled opponents from Mesquite. While they were limited to 80 minutes (about three to four innings) per game, Roberts said the games were still a success as the team won four of the six games.

“Last weekend we played five teams that made playoffs last year and thus far ten of the twelve schools we have played this year were playoff contenders, most of which were 5A and 6A,” Roberts said. “The girls did an excellent job this weekend and we had some outstanding performances. Kylee Ramos hit a 3-run home run and Kallie Killingsworth stepped up the next pitch and hit a home run, so we had back-to-back dingers for the first time. Also, Jaclyn Willis hit a grand slam versus Burleson on an inside pitch. I have to commend Celeste Soliz as you don’t normally have a freshman that steps up behind the plate for almost every game we have played and she has done a great job.”

For the past weekends, the softball players have missed most of their classes on Thursdays and Fridays due to traveling to or playing games during the school day, which has put a strain on the team’s academics.

“It’s tough missing so many classes, but luckily we know in advance when and what we are going to miss so we can get ahead, “ Weichel said. “With practices after school, we are able to take what quizzes and tests we miss before school so it’s been manageable. When we went to College Station, our teachers sent our work with Coach Roberts which was a major help.”

So far in this weekend’s tournament, the softball team is 1-1 as they suffered a 14-2 loss to Denton Guyer, however the team rallied later in the day for a 4-1 win against Forney. The Lady Leopards face Celina at 9 a.m. and Redwater at 1 p.m. on March 4 with Canyon at 9 a.m. on March 5.