Mineral Wells Index
— By CLINT FOSTER
The Mineral Wells Lady Rams capped off a stellar regular season last week, clinching second place in District 6-3A and a favorable seeding heading into the Class 3A playoffs.
At 24-7, 8-2 in district, the Lady Rams have proven they know how to win. Mineral Wells has also already begun its first round, best-of-three series with the Graham Lady Blues. But just how deep of a run are the girls capable of making?
As in any sport, come playoff time, things can be pretty unpredictable. However, a case can be made for why these Lady Rams both can and can't put together a streak and snag a coveted spot in this year's state tournament.
So, for what it's worth, here are five reasons why the Lady Rams will make it to state in 2014 and five reasons they won't.
FIVE REASONS LADY RAMS MAKE IT TO STATE
1. Pitching: Pitching is arguably the most important aspect of the game of softball and these Lady Rams have it in spades.
Mineral Wells' two-woman rotation of junior Allie Stephens and sophomore Kelsey Keeton has a combined ERA of 2.19 and WHIP of 1.26 through 165 2/3 innings of work.
The elder Stephens has the better stat line in some regards and has gotten the nod from head coach David Tarver in multiple big games and key situations.
She leads the team in strikeouts with 109 and has allowed the fewest hits, with 78, and runs, with 48 – only 24 of which were earned. All of these factors have contributed to an 11-4 record in 23 pitching appearances.
Keeton may not hold the team lead in many statistical categories, but don't sleep on the sophomore. No Lady Ram can pound the strike zone like this 13-3 starter who has seen 75 percent of her pitches called strikes.
Keeton has also walked just seven batters on the year, compared to Stephens' 30, and has hit one batter, compared to Stephens' 10.
The two ladies make for a truly lethal pitching combination that gives Tarver the luxury of a true change of pace when necessary in a game situation.
2. Bethany Allen: The last name "Allen" is quickly developing a lore within Mineral Wells baseball and softball circles thanks to three stickball-playing siblings who are in a class of their own. The only girl of the trio, Bethany, has already cemented her legacy with a phenomenal senior season.
The Weatherford College signee saw some time at catcher this season to periodically spell starter Hope Patterson, but she is a natural in her regular duty as shortstop.
She's like a vacuum between second and third base, accruing a .952 fielding percentage in 2014, including 96 putouts, 42 assists and two double plays.
She's also a vital game-changer on offense, leading off the Lady Rams' batting order.
With a staggering .585 batting average, Allen has totaled 62 hits, 13 doubles, eight triples, 27 RBIs and only one strikeout.
Her speed also makes her dangerous on the base paths. It's rare that Allen does not find her way home somehow once she's on base, scoring 64 runs as a result in 2014.
If the Lady Rams are to make a run at state, Allen will be key.
3. Hitting: If solid pitching doesn't float your boat, the Lady Rams can also hit with the best of them. When these girls are hot, they are dangerous at every spot in the lineup.
The top is particularly strong, with Allen leading off followed by left fielder Victoria Huffman. Huffman is essentially the Rams' version of Shin-Soo Choo, posting a .461 on-base percentage and drawing walks like nobody's business.
Once both of those girls are on base, and they often are, Hope Patterson steps up to the plate, bringing her team second-best .560 batting average and team-best .868 slugging percentage.
Patterson is the Lady Rams’ power hitter and is a threat to go yard at any moment. She has registered 51 hits on the season, 15 of which were extra-base hits: eight doubles, a triple and a team-high six home runs. She also holds the team lead in RBIs by a wide margin with 50.
The middle of the lineup isn't much of a step down, with Kelsey Keeton, Allie Stephens and Ashley Valdez each averaging well above .300 at the plate and having the ability to hit for power and move base runners.
Keeton, Stephens and Valdez have combined for 68 RBIs on the season, 30 of which came from Keeton in the cleanup spot.
The bottom three in the lineup might not have the same stats as the top six, but can be extremely dangerous in clutch situations. Addison Singleton, Anaiz Mendoza and Tabby Santibanez all give the Lady Rams good speed on the base paths and have the ability to get hot and go on impressive hitting streaks.
4. Wins over potential playoff foes: Mineral Wells' history with Graham, particularly in softball, has been well-documented with between 30 and 40 meetings between the two teams over the past 18 years and the Lady Rams posting a 2-0 record in their regular season games this year. But the Lady Blues aren't the only opponents in the Lady Rams' 2014 bracket that have already suffered losses to Mineral Wells.
The Lady Rams already beat their potential second-round foes, the Glen Rose Lady Tigers, 4-1 in the finale of the Glen Rose Tournament, Feb. 22.
Elsewhere in the bracket, possible third-round teams Springtown and Iowa Park has also lost to Mineral Wells.
The Lady Rams swept their season series with Springtown, going 4-0 with wins of 9-3, 10-3, 10-3 and 16-5.
State-ranked Iowa Park split their two games with Mineral Wells. The Lady Rams lost the first on Feb. 27, 2-1, and won the second on March 6, 5-4.
5. Opportunists: Like all good teams, the Lady Rams know how to make opponents pay for their mistakes.
Lady Rams have reached base on errors 62 times in 2014 and scored many more times off of errors.
Tarver preaches aggressiveness on the base paths, which has largely worked in Mineral Wells' favor. The Lady Rams have stolen 56 bases for a .903 stolen base percentage.
The Lady Rams have also batted well with runners in scoring position with a .369 team average. Softball is all about taking runs where you can get them and the Lady Rams generally get theirs.
FIVE REASONS LADY RAMS WON’T MAKE IT TO STATE
1. Tough opponents in late rounds: Although the Lady Rams have had success against teams they could likely see early in the tournament, the road gets considerably rougher and the opponents less familiar the deeper they go.
Two teams from the Texas Girls Coaches Association top 10 are in Mineral Wells' bracket: No. 9 Snyder and No. 3 Liberty Hill.
The Lady Rams wouldn't have a chance to run into Snyder until the regional semifinals, but Liberty Hill could provide a stiff test in the regional quarterfinals, one round earlier.
Mineral Wells was 1-4 against teams ranked in the TGCA top 30 prior to the playoffs, with their lone win coming against Iowa Park and losses to Iowa Park, Lubbock Cooper and twice to the District 6-3A champions and second-ranke team in the state: Kennedale.
2. Lack of depth: Although it didn't necessarily hurt them in the regular season, the Lady Rams do not have the deepest roster with just three bench players, which could be problematic down the stretch in the postseason.
Having just three reserves means Tarver not only has limited options for pinch-hitting situations, but also means the Lady Rams could be in trouble if, God forbid, any of their starters were to get injured.
Of the three reserves, Airaca Graham has seen the most playing time, primarily on defense, where she has shown promise particularly at second base.
Graham's plate appearances have been few and far between, posting a .111 batting average in 18 at bats.
Other reserves, Jenny Seigler and Kaitlyn Brock, have combined for just 20 plate appearances and usually see game time as courtesy runners. Like Graham, they could be counted on in a pinch, but their lack of experience could be a weakness.
3. Youth: The Lady Rams only have two seniors on their roster: Bethany Allen and Anaiz Mendoza. The rest of the team is primarily junior-laden, but even so, one less year of experience can be detrimental in a late playoff scenario.
4. Hitting slumps: The vast majority of the time, the Lady Rams are absolute offensive terrors capable of run-ruling most teams in three to four innings. But, like any team, their bats can slump and when the Lady Rams slump, they tend to slump as a team.
Such incidents have been rare this season, but the Lady Rams have found themselves in some battles – some of which turned into losses – when they couldn't get girls on base and moved around home.
Granted, most of these incidents came in games against very good opposing pitching, but nonetheless such a thing can end a playoff run.
5. Errors: The Lady Rams are by no means a team riddled by errors, but like any team, they do commit them and at times they have come in game-threatening bunches.
Mineral Wells has committed a total of 64 errors on the year, many of which were on fairly routine plays.
It's all about focus, something Tarver constantly preaches. Errors cannot necessarily be anticipated – that's why they're errors – but so long as the Lady Rams can retain their focus, it becomes much less of a worry.