Bold move pays off big for Lady Wolves

Posted Monday, Apr. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Most of what Timberview has done on the softball field this season was predicated on one major off-season decision.

Senior Ashley Tharp was one of Timberview's ace pitchers last year as a junior. Heading into her senior season, it would appear a no-brainer that she would lead the staff. But coach Donya Mooney saw the potential of freshman pitcher Mariah Denson and had a bold decision to make.

Mooney moved Tharp to third base and made Denson the team's primary starter. Since then, the Lady Wolves haven't looked backed. Timberview has racked up 20 wins, including a perfect 13-0 record in District 7-5A entering Tuesday's district finale against Cedar Hill.

Timberview has already locked up the 7-5A title and will be a tough out in the playoffs, thanks to Denson's pitching and Tharp's leadership. Since the move, Denson has been one of the area's best pitchers and Tharp has led Timberview on and off the field.

Mooney has praised Tharp for being behind the decision "100 percent" and really embracing a leadership role.

"She stepped aside a bit," Mooney said. "It shows in the respect for her from her teammates."

Tharp has done her job at third base. She leads Timberview in hits and is batting .403 on the season. Defensively, Mooney said Tharp has been a lifesaver for the Lady Wolves defense.

"She's been a great defensive player," Tharp said. "She's taking away other teams’ short game opportunities and making great plays at third."

In the pitching circle, Denson has blown away opposing hitters with dominant stuff. Denson has an ERA below 1.50 and is averaging double-digit strikeouts per seven innings pitched.

Denson is doing all of this as a freshman and has put the Lady Wolves on her shoulder, Mooney said.

"In softball and baseball, it all starts with what you have in the circle or on the mound," Mooney said. "You build around that and that's exactly what we've done."

Combined with catcher Ashley Timmons, Mooney is more than confident in her defense. It's part of the reason that Denson has been so successful, Mooney said – even if Denson lets a runner on base, she has faith that her defense will make a play behind her.

"We know going in to every game, hitters will struggle against her," Mooney said. "Our defense behind her gives her the confidence to do what she needs to do and attack the hitters."

In a start that really pushed her into elite territory, Denson shut down a powerful Mansfield High School lineup in the first meeting between the schools this season. Both teams entered district play undefeated after a handful of games.

It was Denson's first start against Timberview's biggest crosstown rival and it was on the road. Denson wasn't fazed and struck out 11 Mansfield hitters, including the final three, in a nail-biting 2-1 victory.

It was a sign that Denson was more than ready for the bright lights and the big stage. Since that win, Timberview has won all of its ensuing games by at least five runs or more. In the Lady Wolves’ last seven games, they've only given up three runs and had six shutouts.

That's mainly credited to Denson's work, but the Timberview defense is no slouch, led by Timmons and Tharp. Mooney said all but two players have switched positions in the field, so fielding a top defense wasn't so simple heading into the season.

But Mooney said her players went to work to make sure the defense was a positive and not an excuse for losing ball games.

"We started out the year making adjustments on defense," Mooney said. "Everybody moved around, knowing we had Mariah coming and had to fill in everything around her."

Being so adaptable has been one of the biggest reasons for Timberview's success, Mooney said. The Lady Wolves didn't make the playoffs last season, so Mooney knew there had to be some changes.

To unify the team concept, Mooney and the team had t-shirts made that had the word "we" followed by a greater sign and then the word "me." The message was clear: we was greater than me, or the team was more important than the individual.

"I always tell the girls to play within yourself and trust your teammates," Mooney said. "We've held onto that all season long. We have a chance to do great things in the playoffs."

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