Mineral Wells Index
By TONY EIERDAM
Riding momentum gained after coming back to win a bi-district playoff series, the Mineral Wells Lady Rams enter the second round of the playoffs where they square off against Hillsboro in a best-of-three area championship softball series that begins at 7 p.m. Friday at North Crowley High School.
Game two will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at North Crowley, with game three, if necessary, to follow game two.
The Lady Eagles earned a bye in the first round as District 7-3A champions. This is the second consecutive season the Lady Rams have made it to the second round, a school record.
Last year, Hillsboro was swept in the bi-district playoffs by the Lady Rams by scores of 15-0 and 13-3.
But this is a different Hillsboro team compared to last year, MWHS head coach David Tarver warned.
The Lady Eagles have a “move in” pitcher and a squad with a year of playoff experience under its collective belts.
“Hillsboro also has good team speed,” Tarver said. “They can make you make mistakes. They have a freshman shortstop who also pitches, and she is pretty good.
“They also have a move in pitcher, and that has made a difference. She is pretty good.”
Tarver said he told his team on Monday that Hillsboro has enough players coming back who remember last year’s series.
“They know we are good, and hopefully that will put a little doubt in their minds,” he said. “But they will also have the revenge factor on their side.
“But they also have new girls who don’t care about last year, and they may not be as intimidated. It will be a completely different series this year.
“Hillsboro will be a lot more competitive, and we are not going to step on the field looking ahead to the next round of the playoffs.”
Tarver feels his team gained an even higher level of confidence after coming back from a 10-1 loss to Graham in the opener of last week’s series to win consecutive games to clinch the series.
“The biggest thing is remembering two years ago when we lost a series to Iowa Park (after MWHS blew out Iowa Park in opening game of series),” he said. “We have now been on both sides of that scenario. We were disappointed two years ago, but I think the Graham series erased all of that.
“I don’t worry about the girls having an emotional letdown after such a big series last weekend. They have experienced both sides of that, and they know what can happen when you take another softball team for granted.
“But this is a team that only worries about winning its next game, no matter who it is playing. One game at a time; one win at a time.”
Against Graham, Tarver started Kelsey Keeton in the pitching circle in the series opener and finished with Allie Stephens. In games two and three on Saturday, Tarver started Stephens and finished with Keeton. Stephens recorded both wins, and Keeton earned two saves in relief.
Tarver did not come up with an answer when asked on Monday who would start the opener against Hillsboro.
“That is a good question,” he said with a chuckle.
Hillsboro will have to contend with a Lady Rams’ lineup that features senior catcher Reagan Patterson, who leads the area in home runs with 10.
Lead-off batter Bethany Allen is on a hot streak as well, and sophomore clean-up hitter Hope Patterson, who led the Lady Rams in home runs last year, is always a threat to take the ball out of the yard.
Senior Chandler Ortiz has been moved around in the order, hitting anywhere from the second spot to the fifth spot (she also led off when Allen missed a game due to being ill), and she is also swinging a hot bat.
Senior Molly Clarke has also been a boost offensively in a designated player role, and she can also be used in the outfield.
Another part of the Lady Rams’ game gained confidence on Saturday as the outfield of Victoria Huffman, Tabby Santibanez and Makayla Nance played well as a collective unit in the outfield after struggling in the loss at Graham a week ago.
“Our outfield has turned into a strength,” Tarver said. “I like the way the girls came back and made plays Saturday. That was a big key to our wins.”
The winner of the series will play the winner of the Burkburnett/Gatesville area series. State-ranked No. 7 Burkburnett eliminated the Lady Rams in the second round of the playoffs last year.