By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor & Colin Bado, TSB Sports Writer
After three months of tournament play, non-district opponents, and the grind of district play, postseason softball has arrived in McKinney. After Boyd claimed the District 10-5A title, and North finished second in District 13-4A, both teams are spending the week preparing for the Bi-District round series, which will begin Friday night. Boyd will host W.T White while North will visit Sulphur Springs, both of which are the first games in best of three series.
Below are full preview stories for each team, including quotes from coaches and players:
Despite Crazy Injury List, Boyd Ready for a Run at the State Title
When the training room has just as many players in it as the field next to it has, a coach knows something just isn’t going very well.
While it didn’t quite come to that extreme, Boyd head coach Moe Fritz and the Lady Bronco softball team saw their fair share of time in the training room and nurse’s office this spring. Since starting play in early February, players have suffered a concussion, multiple knee and thumb injuries, an ACL injury, and several cases of strep throat, just to name a few.
“It is the first time in my career that I have had that many injuries,” said Fritz, completing her fourth season as the Lady Bronco head coach. After making the postseason just one time in the program’s first three years, Fritz has led the team to its third straight playoff appearance. In 2012, Boyd lost to Temple 7-2 in the Regional Quarterfinal round, the furthest the program has ever gone.
However, the Lady Broncos (19-13-1) journey back to the playoffs got off to a slow start in 2013. In the midst of dealing with multiple injuries and sicknesses throughout the early months of the season, Boyd finished 11-9-1 in non-district and tournament play. At one point, junior shortstop Jill Nicklas was the only regular infielder in the lineup, with outfielders having to play the remaining three infield positions.
“It was so bad at the beginning,” said Nicklas. “I thought we were going to be strong in the beginning, but then we had all these injuries and people were out.”
Fritz had her starting catcher Madison VonHagel and third baseman McKenna Henry miss some time during the season, but both have returned to the starting lineup in time for the playoffs. Two players who were injured, and were listed as out for the year, are junior outfielder Jailen Douglas and junior second baseman Delaney Neal.
Once District 10-5A play began on March 8, the Lady Broncos were prepared for a grind of a district schedule. With all three Plano schools, Allen, and crosstown foe McKinney now in the fold, Boyd’s path at a second straight district title wasn’t going to come easy.
Through the first four 10-5A games, Boyd was 3-1 entering its road contest with MHS. Despite the Lionettes being 0-4, McKinney topped Boyd 9-8 and put the Lady Broncos in a tough position in the standings.
“When we lost to McKinney High, I thought we were done and going to miss the playoffs,” said Nicklas. “But we made a great comeback after that.”
In the second half of district play, Boyd went 4-1 including a 1-0 victory over Plano West and an incredible 3-2 win over the Lionettes in 12 innings on the final day of the regular season to clinch a share of the district title. Plano West and Boyd finished with 7-3 records in 10-5A, but the Lady Broncos swept both matchups with the Lady Wolves, giving them the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“With what these kids have gone through and accomplished, I am just so proud of them,” said Fritz. “At any one time in the season, things could have gone much differently.”
In the circle, the Lady Broncos’ main pitcher is sophomore Erin Riding, who has become one of the state’s most dominant pitchers this season. Riding has a sub-2.00 ERA and 281 strikeouts, both in the top-10 in the area.
Fritz said that at a couple points during the season, she would pull several players to the side and ask where they felt the most comfortable. Without hesitation, Fritz said every player told her to play them wherever was best for the team.
“They are very versatile and flexible,” said Fritz. “They are willing to do whatever we need them to do individually. In the end, the kids just said ‘put me wherever you need me,’ and it worked.”
After losing just one player from last season’s Area champion squad, Mo McDonald, the lone senior on the team and the starting centerfielder, wasn’t shying away from the goals for the team over the next month.
“I think we can go to state,” said McDonald.
Boyd opens up bi-district round play Friday night at home versus W.T. White, beginning at 7 p.m. The Lady Broncos have not played a game since last Wednesday’s regular season finale versus McKinney, but Fritz said the time off has been beneficial and well spent for her girls.
“We were able to do some team-bonding things over the last week, so it has been good for the girls,” said Fritz.
With the team going over final preparations for their bi-district round series this weekend, Nicklas supported her centerfielders claim that the Lady Broncos would find themselves in Austin in early June.
“I think we are going to go to state,” said Nicklas. “We are at our strongest point right now and the best since I have been here.”
Game two of the three-game series will be Saturday morning at W.T. White, beginning at 10 a.m. If necessary, game three would begin following the conclusion of game two on Saturday.
By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
North Hopes Strong Pitching, Timely Offense Leads to Postseason Success
In 2003, McKinney North High School competed at the varsity level for the very first time. Without faltering, the softball team made an immediate impact and established themselves as a powerhouse softball program in North Dallas. For a decade straight, the Lady Bulldogs have made the playoffs, but have yet to bring home the coveted state championship.
With a dominant sophomore pitcher and three seniors taking the reigns, North head coach Dan Sedgwick is ready to make another run at the postseason.
As the runner-up in District 13-4A behind Lovejoy, the Lady Bulldogs anticipate building off their success during the regular season and into the postseason. North’s first test will be against a talented Sulpher Springs team in a best of three Bi-district round series, beginning Friday night on the road.
“This series won’t be a blow out,” said Sedgwick. “It’ll be a hard battle. Sulpher Springs has great pitchers and can hit the ball well. We have to play well defensively and make good decisions at the plate.”
North is looking to advance past the first round for the first time since the 2008 season. After making it to the Regional Semifinal round that year, the Lady Bulldogs have been eliminated by twice by both Rockwall and Frisco Wakeland.
Offensively, North (16-4) currently has three batters hitting over .500, including senior first baseman and University of Texas signee Taylor McAllister. With 10 home runs and 13 extra base hits, McAllister plays an influential role in the success of the Lady Bulldogs.
“Seniors Taylor (McAllister) and Faith (Dixon) have been phenomenal for us,” said Sedgwick. “They’re great players and leaders. They’re the first ones on the field and the last off.”
“I want to finish my career on a really good note,” said McAllister. “I don’t want to leave anything on the field.”
Chemistry has been the foundation for the Lady Bulldogs success. Despite only having three seniors, the team understands the tradition that comes with being a part of the McKinney North softball team.
“We compliment each other and we’re really close,” said second baseman Alli Lindsey. “We have to ability to coach one another and tell each other to pick it up if they’re slacking.”
Sedgwick has continued to engage his team in tough practices in order to prepare the girls for their first playoff bout.
“We continue to work on the basics and fundamentals,” said Sedgwick. “If you’re sound fundamentally, then the rest will take care of itself.”
Throughout the 2013 season, North struggled to put up runs early. Sedgwick emphasized making an impact right off the bat and not allowing the girls to get off to a slow start.
“Once the girls get out to the field for practice, I want to get things going immediately,” said Sedgwick. “I want the best part of practice to be right at the beginning.”
“We’re very focused during practice,” said McAllister. “It’s a differently mentality entering the playoffs.”
“We know it’s a three game series, but we don’t want to waste time,” said Lindsey. “We want to come out strong and compete right away.”
In the circle, sophomore pitcher Celeste Verdolivo pitched her first no hitter against Wylie East on Senior Night. Despite being an underclassman, Verdolivo is ranked third in the area and has a 16-2 record with a 1.42 ERA. She’s also a threat at the plate, with an average of .534 to go with 10 doubles. With senior catcher Dixon batting .552 and swinging the bat very well, North is sound at the one and two spots in the lineup.
“Teams with strong pitching are typically successful during the playoffs, but when the rubber was moved back to 43 feet, offense became a bigger factor,” said Sedgwick.
North’s first playoff game will be on Friday at Sulpher Springs, beginning at 7 p.m. The Lady Bulldogs will have to recover quickly, with game two of the three-game series scheduled for Saturday morning at McKinney North, beginning at 10AM. If needed, game three would be back at North on Monday night, beginning at 7 p.m.
“I really want the seniors to go out this year showing everyone that they worked really hard to get here and leave on a positive note,” said Sedgwick.
By Colin Bado, TSB Sports Writer