By TONY EIERDAM
Today marks the “second season” for the Mineral Wells Lady Rams softball team as they begin what they hope is a long ride through the Class 3A playoffs.
The Lady Rams, the second seed from District 6-3A, will face the Graham Lady Blues, the third-place team from District 5-3A, one of the strongest softball districts in the region.
Game one of the best-of-three bi-district playoff series will be at 7:30 p.m. today at Graham. Game two will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Kessler Field on the campus of MWHS, with game three, if necessary, to follow game two.
The winner of the series will face Hillsboro – the winner of District 7-3A which earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs – in the area (second) round.
The Lady Rams have qualified for the Class 3A playoffs for the third year in a row.
Two years ago the MWHS ladies fell in an opening-round series to Iowa Park, and last year, after winning the school’s first-ever playoff series, lost to Burkburnett in a second-round game.
Both Iowa Park and Burkburnett play in District 5-3A, and MWHS’ first-round opponent also hails from 5-3A. While Iowa Park and Burkburnett are both ranked in the state’s Top 15, Graham is unranked despite defeating Iowa Park in district play.
In fact, Graham was one run away from sweeping Iowa Park this season.
Graham defeated the Lady Rams twice in non-district play, the first time in the season opener, 3-2 at Graham, and the second time 10-3 in Mineral Wells in the non-district finale.
In the their 10-3 win over MWHS, four different Graham batters swatted a home run as the Lady Blues demonstrated their power at the plate.
But the Lady Rams were also playing several girls out of position as the team dealt with several injuries.
Graham has two solid pitchers in Krisha Hamm and Macy Nantz, the latter who was the winning pitcher in the second of the two games between the teams. She retired nine consecutive batters in that contest to seal the win.
But whoever pitches against the Lady Rams will have to face one of the hottest bats in the area.
Mineral Wells catcher Reagan Patterson has hit nine home runs this season, and leads the team in home runs, extra-base hits and runs batted in. Patterson recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Division II St. Mary’s of San Antonio.
“Reagan is on fire,” Lady Rams head coach David Tarver said. “She is having a special senior season.”
In the last meeting, the Lady Blues faced MWHS pitcher Kelsey Keeton when the freshman came on in relief of starting pitcher Hope Patterson, who was pitching that game with an injured leg.
But the Keeton Graham faced six weeks ago is not the same pitcher today.
Keeton had an impressive 7-2 record in district play. She struck out 11 batters in the district opener and never looked back.
“Kelsey is steady,” Tarver said. “That’s the one word I would use to describe her play, steady.
“She brings it every single game, inning and pitch.”
While Graham will probably alternate pitchers in the series, the Lady Rams may stick with Keeton, who started all but one district game.
But Tarver could also use Allie Stephens, who defeated Diamond Hill in the lone district game she started in the circle since coming back from an injury.
MWHS’ third pitcher, Hope Patterson, will probably stay at her regular third base position. Injuries have kept Hope Patterson out of the circle for most of the season.
While the Lady Rams are coming off a loss to Kennedale for the district championship, Graham has lost three of its last four as its enter the playoffs, although two of the losses were to state-ranked No. 8 Burkburnett, and another to No. 16 Iowa Park.
Nantz pitched the district finale for the Lady Blues, but head coach Jimmy Hogan would not reveal his pitching order or if he will alternate pitchers.