Lady Tigers softball season a major success
Saturday, 09 June 2012 by Chuck Kelly
What some observers expected to be a "rebuilding" year for the Lady Tigers softball team turned into an amazing trip three rounds deep into the post-season playoffs --- Quarterfinalists, no less!
Fifth-year head coach Matt Blackburn sat down to reflect on the varsity's surprising season from Day One --- It was not an auspicious beginning.
"We started out February 7 with the Westwood scrimmage. We got one hit in seven innings and we gave up seven runs! We didn't look too hot in our scrimmages against Corsicana and Lorena either," he remembered.
Blackburn noted that he considered the year as three seasons: the pre-season games schedule and tournaments, the district schedule and the post-season schedule, "if you are lucky enough to make it".
The first half of the regular season was a "work in progress" for the young team that had only two senior starters.
"After we played Bryan that first game of the second half (a 7-6 loss), our record was 10-13. We knew than that we had to win games to make the playoffs....We won the next three-in-a-row; we beat Temple 18-9 (after losing 2-1 in the first half), shutout Harker Heights 14-0 and downed Shoemaker 20-2. The Bryan game was really the turning point for the kids," the coach remembered. "They started playing ball like they were capable of playing, made some mistakes here and there but it was a lot better softball than I had seen the previous two months."
Blackburn said that, as a coaching staff, they began feeling a little more confident with what their team was doing. They started "jelling" at the right time....but the regular season was wrapping up.
"We had to win our last game of district just to make the playoffs," He commented.
The Lady Tigers had gone to the Class 5A playoffs in each of Blackburn's five years as head coach and losing was not an option. The ladies (15-14, 8-6) earned a fourth seed with a 6-2 victory over Ellison's Lady Eagles to capture the final spot.
"I knew that I and pretty much everyone associated with softball assumed that this would be our last win of the year. We were going to the playoffs but you typically don't expect a first-place team to be upset by a fourth- place team! I really set up a best-of-three series just so we could play at least two more games and, looking forward to next year, give these kids as many games as they could under their belt as I could."
In the Bi-District opener in Waco, Belton took a 7-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh but everyone knew that the team was capable of blowing a lead so there was a feeling of confidence but uneasiness. Mesquite Horn turned into a runaway train and the only thing that stopped the train was an eighth run to win the game!
"I laid into the girls pretty good between games and thought it would either jump-start them or they would completely shut down. We came out and scored seven runs in the first inning of game two and two more in the second and evened the series with a 9-6 win." coach remembered. "We decided that if we were going to play the next day, we might as well win and we did, 3-1 in Troy. It was a huge feat for us and making it to the second round was just icing on the cake."
After defeating the district champ of District 11-5A, the Lady Tigers only played two games in a best-of-three area round series, beating Garland Rowlett 9-2 and 4-2 to advance to the third round.
In the semi-finals, it was a showdown against district foe Bryan .
"We were underdogs, of course," said Blackburn.
Bryan had defeated Belton twice in the regular season and did it again in game one of their series, 11-7. BUT --- the Lady Tigers edged the LadyVikings 4-3 to take the showdown to three games. It only delayed things because Bryan won 11-2 to send Belton home.
"We played Bryan five times this year and beat them once," observed Blackburn. "They're definitely the better team and the better team advanced."
(*writer's note: Belton earned more All-District selections than Bryan, 6-5)
"After we lost to Bryan in the second half of district, we went 10-4 the rest of the year. That's quite an accomplishment," stated coach Blackburn. "This was a young team with a tough schedule. We were 20-17 on the season and if you had asked me midway thru if we would get 20 wins, I'd have told you 'no way'....but we did and five of them came in the playoffs. We played three solid teams in the playoffs and went 5-8 against them. This year was a complete TEAM accomplishment. Our program is definitely headed in the right direction.
"I'm losing two starters, Billi (Farr) and Lauren (Ramsey). I'll miss them as a coach but they laid the foundation that the house is going to be built on, not only this year, but the last two years! They touched a lot of freshmen this year and showed them what they need to do for success."