MINERAL WELLS —
By TONY EIERDAM
Two years ago, a young Mineral Wells Lady Rams softball team – a team that started two freshmen and a pair of sophomores – won a district championship.
Now, with three of those ladies returning to add to the talent of even younger players collected last year and a one freshman this season, the Lady Rams are poised to go further in the playoffs than any team that head coach David Tarver has fielded in his 14 years as head coach.
“I have a good blend of experience and youth this season,” Tarver explained. “Our returning players, however, set the team goals.
“Our major goal is really simple: win the next game. That is the mentality that the girls have chosen to take this year, and I am very excited about that outlook.
“They are not looking down the road. They are looking at working hard today, and looking only as far ahead as who is our next opponent.
“We sat down and wrote down team goals, and I always put the girls in charge of that. They are very adamant about just winning that next game.
“If they do that, they will win district, make the playoffs, and when you are in the playoffs the focus is always just on the next game.
“They don’t want to worry about what is down the road. They are focused on the next game. This might be the most mature group of girls that I have coached.
“I am able to sit back and listen to them in team meetings, and usually I have to lead the meetings and guide them in a direction. But with this group I just sit back and listen.”
The Lady Rams welcome back junior shortstop Bethany Allen, who last year as a sophomore was selected to the all-state, first team, and the two returning starting seniors will be catcher Reagan Patterson and second baseman Chandler Ortiz, both all-district, first-team players the past two seasons.
In fact, Ortiz will be the only player on the team entering her fourth year on varsity.
“Reagan and Chandler have both emerged as team leaders,” Tarver said. “They have taken full charge of meetings, and that has been a tremendous help to me.
“It is also a strength to have BB (Allen) and Chandler in the middle of the infield, and a veteran like Reagan at catcher.
“Reagan has all the skills a good catcher needs. She can throw out runners, pick off runners and she can call pitches. She also hits for power and a high average.
“BB hit mid .500 her freshman year and over .600 last year, and I can’t wait to see what she can do this season. I do not know what her limits are, and I doubt she does. The sky is the limit for BB. She has a strong arm, great range and rarely commits errors (just one in 2012).
“Chandler and BB, without a doubt, are the best double play combination I have ever had,” Tarver continued. “Chandler and BB both dive after balls, and they use their bodies to stop hard-hit balls if they have to.
“We are solid in the infield once again, and because of our experience there I can take more time out to develop our outfielders.”
The Lady Rams did lose a pitcher off last year’s squad, Krysten Marr, whose family moved. But they will replace her with highly-touted freshman pitcher Kelsey Keeton, who will join a three-lady staff that includes starting pitchers from last year – sophomores Hope Patterson and Allie Stephens.
Tarver, who used a three-pitcher rotation last season, plans the same course of strategy this year, at least before district play begins.
The three ladies will be intertwined defensively as all three will start at either pitcher, first base or third base.
For instance, Tarver explained, when Hope Patterson is in the circle Keeton will play first base and Stephens will be at third. Hope Patterson will play third base when not pitching.
The Lady Rams have already suffered a season-ending injury set back as junior third baseman Trella Waight had elbow
surgery and is out for the year. She will still be on the roster and help the team in any way possible, according to Tarver.
Junior utility player Anjelica Trevino will replace Waight and will be used in the infield.
Even after losing the district’s Most Valuable Player in 2011 in Marr, Tarver feels he will not be hurt in the circle.
“We have a great situation with our three pitchers” Tarver said. “Hope is our power pitcher, Allie has great control, and Kelsey is a lot like Krysten was – throwing with decent speed but with good ball movement.
“As long as Kelsey hits her spots we will keep her (in the rotation).”
The Lady Rams will also return plenty of offense, with Allen, who hit over .650 last year, leading off, with Ortiz and Reagan Patterson to hit in front of Hope Patterson is one of the most dangerous long-ball threats in the state, no matter which classification.
“Bethany has the ‘it’ factor,” Tarver explained. “Some people just have that greatness that you can’t put into words. Bethany just has it. She is patience and disciplined at the plate, she has power and can hit for a high average, and she has speed.
“The best part about BB is that she has that competitive nature that tells herself no matter how good she does, it is just not good enough and can be better. If she goes four-for-five at the plate she is mad that she didn’t get a hit in every at bat.
“When she leads off with a hit the next batter always seem to respond, and the excitement level in the dugout is elevated.
“Chandler also hits for power and average. She also is our best bunter and has the ability to move runners.
“Reagan hit behind BB the last two years, but I might move her to third in the order. Reagan has power and hits for a high average. I may make the order Bethany, Chandler, Reagan, or I could go BB, Reagan, Chandler.
“Hope, like Bethany, has a world of potential,” Tarver continued. “She did a lot as a freshman last year, and she has played so much ball over her lifespan that she doesn’t seem like a sophomore.
“Hope is a competitor, and she has so much more room to grow. She has a great swing and hits with a lot of power. Once she learns everything she can do within that swing she is going to be unstoppable.
“Every swing she takes has a chance to be a home run.”
Tarver also said Keeton will immediately add to the offense.
“Kelsey has played select ball all of her life, and she will fit in our order as a consistent bat,” he said. “The rest of the order will pretty much come down to who takes the outfield spots.”
While the Lady Rams’ infield is set, the outfield remains a huge question mark as Tarver lost all three starters from 2012.
Junior Makayla Nance did start in left field at the end of last season when injuries plagued the team, and she is the front-runner to maintain her spot in left.
But two other outfield positions are wide open, and Tarver said seniors Ashley Rice and Sydney Shelstead, junior Anaiz Mendoza, sophomores Tabi Santibanez, Addi Singleton (who also plays catcher) and Victoria Huffman will battle with Nance for the outfield spots.
“Our outfield spots are open, and the best three outfielders are going to play,” Tarver said. “Those spots could change every day. It will be open competition every day, and I am hoping three rise to the occasion.
“If we started today, I am confident in who the three would be, but I am not saying publicly. But every one of these outfielders can play, and they are all competitive and work very hard.
“Even after I name three starters, the others will work harder and try and get one of those spots. We have a good group of outfielders who will push each other.
“Defensively, the best part is that no matter who is out there we will have good speed in the outfield. All these girls can run.”
Tarver said in addition to the main goal of winning the game in front of them, the other team goals are being a team; focus only on softball when between the lines (no drama, as Tarver said the girls put it); put in the extra work; make the playoffs.
“That is a pretty mature concept,” Tarver said. “The girls came in on their own and said these were the goals, and being a team is their No. 1 focus.”