By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
With softball season just getting into district play, TSB takes a snapshot of McKinney ISD varsity teams and looks ahead to what’s ahead.
Surely, 2012 was a year to remember for the Lady Bronco softball team.
After rolling through District 10-5A with a 14-0 record, Boyd advanced to the Regional Quarterfinals of the UIL playoffs before losing to Temple 7-2 at Baylor University.
But if the Lady Broncos are looking to have a repeat of last season’s success, they will have to do it in a brand new district and overcoming a serious amount of early season injuries.
“Where do I start?” said Boyd head coach Maureen Fritz. “I have had a concussion, two shoulder issues, a knee issue, a leg issue, the flu off and on, so basically I get one kid coming back and one kid leaving. At one point we had three starters out of the lineup, so it was been a pretty crazy beginning to the season.”
The biggest name yet to return to the field is catcher Maddie VonHagel, who is out with a broken thumb. Despite the possibility of having the cast removed earlier this week, Fritz said the doctors told VonHagel the cast would be removed next week.
Despite the crazy disabled list the Lady Broncos have formed in the first half of the season, Fritz and her players are currently 11-7-1 on the season, but most importantly they are 2-0 in District 10-5A after defeating Plano 4-3 on Monday night at home.
“It is about halfway through the season and to still be dealing with all that and still have success, just shows me how flexible the girls are with putting them in positions that haven’t played in years, or maybe never played before. I think they have stepped up to the plate and done really good with all that,” said Fritz.
The Boyd head coach said the best game she has seen her team play this season was last Friday night at Plano West, when the Lady Broncos topped the Lady Wolves 4-1 in their 10-5A opener. “I thought it was the best game I had seen them play,” said Fritz. “Just up and down the lineup to everyone in the dugout, absolutely the best game I had seen them play. It was exciting to see the energy they were playing with.”
While the name of the district has stayed the same for Boyd, no longer do they see a Garland school every Tuesday and Friday night. With bigger names like Plano West, Plano East, and crosstown foe McKinney High on the schedule, Fritz said the competition is welcomed by her players and coaching staff.
“Every night you have to bring your game,” she said. “You have to bring your game every day in this district, and that is what I like so much about it. I like when you play competition like this because it makes you even better.”
When asked about the chance to play the McKinney Lionettes twice this season, the fourth year head coach said the “rivalry” wasn’t necessarily there when it came to softball.
“I don’t know if it is a rivalry,” said Fritz. “I guess it will be nice to play in town and play another McKinney school, but I think softball is a totally different dynamic that the other sports.”
While the Lady Broncos have several valuable players on the field, like junior shortstop Jill Nicklas and senior centerfielder Miranda McDonald, Boyd’s most important asset has to be sophomore pitcher Erin Riding, a University of Iowa commitment who already surpassed 160 strikeouts entering Monday night’s game. According to Fritz, Riding is playing the best softball of her high school career.
“She is dominating. She is playing the best softball I have seen the girl play. Erin is on a mission and defiantly in a zone, and I think she is enjoying the game even more this season,” said Fritz.
Fritz said that Riding has more than just one strikeout pitch, but even more than the growth in her play on the field is how she has grown off of it.
“She has more than just one strikeout pitch, and I think she has just become more confident in herself in being able to throw any pitch at any moment. Erin has grown a lot and the way she carries herself just adds to her dominant nature in the circle.”
The Lady Broncos next district game is Mar. 19 at Allen. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
To say the Lady Bulldogs’ bats are hot at the moment might be a big understatement.
After dropping their first two games of the season to Bishop Lynch and Wichita Falls Ryder while scoring just four runs, North has outscored its opponents 68-28 during the team’s six-game winning streak.
“They have been hitting like crazy,” said North head coach Dan Sedgwick after practice on Monday morning. “It scares me to talk about it because I am scared I am going to jinx us.”
While Sedgwick said that his entire lineup is in a groove at the plate, senior Taylor McAllister is leading the charge with 24 runs batted in. Already committed to the University of Texas, Sedgwick is recognized as one of the most powerful bats in the area. She is even having success when teams are trying to walk her intentionally, according to Sedgwick.
“She has been handling the bat well. They try and walk her sometimes and she hits doubles in the gap on pitches way outside. She is just locked in right now,” he said.
The other two seniors on the squad, catcher Faith Dixon and Chandler Johnson, are both signed with Murray State to play college softball next year. But of the 11 players on the roster, five are underclassmen, including sophomore pitcher Celeste Verdolivo, who has all six wins in the circle this season for the Lady Bulldogs.
“During the summer, her select coaches totally revamped her pitching style and she has become more effective,” said Sedgwick. “She has a lot more pitches now. She has some that move up and down, and she is maturing on the field as well. She is getting a lot more confident with her pitches.”
The North head coach said that despite Verdolivo being the team’s No. 1 pitcher, freshman Mikala Coxwell can come in and “provide a different look in the circle.” Sedgwick said that in the team’s 6-4 win versus Coppell last Saturday, utilizing both pitchers kept the opposing lineup off balance as the two pitchers provide different looks in the circle.
While Coxwell is also the team’s shortstop, another freshman that has caught the coach’s eye is right fielder Jordan McCraw. She is the team’s leadoff hitter and has a “tremendous” ability of getting on base.
“She is a slapper and plays a real good right field,” said Sedgwick.
The Lady Bulldogs are 2-0 in District 13-4A after beating Sherman and Royse City by a combined 30-5, but this week will provide the biggest tests for the young North squad this season. Tuesday night the team visits Lovejoy (2-0) who defeated Wylie and Greenville by a combined 27-3, and then the following night North will host Wylie (1-1) to close out the week.
“This is going to be a real interesting week for us,” said Sedgwick. “The good thing is they don’t let anything get them down.”
For head coach Terry Drain, this has not been “just another season.” After six seasons as the Lionettes assistant coach, Drain took over the head coach’s seat this season and was immediately faced with the workload of being a high school softball coach.
“There is a whole lot more responsibility as the head coach of a team, and that hit me pretty quickly upon taking the job,” said Drain. “It was surprising about the amount of responsibility I was given, and it was like having eight arms trying to accomplish everything until I could get things situated.”
In his office there is a large whiteboard stapled to the wall behind his desk. During the offseason Drain said that the entire board was filled with tasks that needed to get down, and although there is less writing that before, there is never a dull moment as the head coach.
While things would have been much different if the returning players were seeing a brand new face in the dugout this season, Drain said that he has still had some challenges taking on his new responsibilities.
“I’ve been able to be in the background and been able to be a little more fun with the players, but now as the head coach I am learning to balance the new role with being the same guy I used to be and the one they recognize. I don’t want to make a 180-degress change from who I was in the past, especially in year one.”
Overall, he said the girls have been outstanding through the entire process, and that “they have rallied around each other like they haven’t before.”
On the field, the Lionettes have had some struggles in the first half of the season. After a 4-9-3 non-district schedule, McKinney dropped its first two district games to Plano and Plano East. Facing a new district with some perennial powerhouses, Drain said that despite the losses early on, his players are excited about the opportunity to play in District 10-5A.
Like their crosstown mates, the Lionettes are facing some early season injury woes that have prevented the entire starting lineup to be on the field at the same time.
“We’ve had some injuries that hasn’t given us any kind of consistency in our lineup,” said Drain.
One of the injuries is to freshman pitcher/outfielder Ashleigh Carlton, who injured her wrist during volleyball season and would fill the role as the team’s backup pitcher when healthy. Instead, Drain has called upon senior April Rousey to fill the role, something he believes she has done quite well.
“She has had to step up for us and fill that role, and I think she has done a great job.”
While every game will be important during district play, Drain understands the excitement that will surround the two crosstown games between them and McKinney Boyd.
“To have another crosstown game on the schedule is always exciting,” said Drain. “For whatever reason that game will be the one that the girls will get up most for. Not like they won’t be ready for the other games, but these girls grew up with those kids and played with them on select teams, so both sides are looking for those bragging rights.”
Even though Drain enjoys the chance to play a crosstown foe, he said watching the players during the postgame handshakes are the most “frustrating” part of the entire game.
“It is funny to see after the game the two teams react during the post game handshake. Even thought one side lost they are still hugging the winning team and smiling, and as a coach it can be slightly frustrating to observe.”
If the Lionettes are going to compete for the 10-5A title, junior pitcher Chelsea Thomas will be the key to the Lionettes chances. Thomas is one of the most decorated pitchers in the area during her high school career, and is remembered for throwing back-to-back no hitters last season.
According to Drain, Thomas’ biggest growth in the circle has been her ability to not feel like she has to strike out every batter she faces.
“Her biggest growth has been fighting through the tough situations,” Drain said. “She has matured a lot in the circle because she has learned when things go wrong, she has to continue to go out there and throw. She is learning to trust the support system around her and becoming more of a pitcher.”
In 2012, the Lionettes had their most successful run in the postseason since 1998, as the team finished as Area champions. After losing two players from last season’s squad, Drain said even though he is now in charge, the overall dynamic of the team is still there.
“We have a team that was one strike away from moving on to the fourth round of playoffs, so essentially we are the same team,” he said.
When asked about the team’s expectations for the remainder of the season, Drain recalled a conversation he had with his senior center fielder Courtney Derrick.
“She said, ‘I want to be a state champion so bad. I don’t understand why you would not have that same feeling if you are out here.’ And I told her that passion and the kind of ideas that I want our seniors to have, but told her that is what you need to show in the locker room and in the dugout and get the other girls to believe.
“I told them from day one that our goal is to be state champions,” said Drain. “I have never understood why coaches would ever shade away from that goal. If that is not what you are playing for, why play the sport? To me, can we be state champions? I think we can, but can we get everyone else to buy in that we can? I think that is the challenge we have.”
McKinney will host Plano West (1-1) on Tuesday, Mar. 19, beginning at 7 p.m.