Lady Tigers earn emotional victory

Posted Monday, Apr. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Heading into the season, Mansfield head softball coach Jennifer Haltom knew one of her biggest assets was going to be senior leadership. Specifically, pitcher Danielle Hubbard. The four-year starter has grown from a starry-eyed freshman into the unquestionable leader of a team that was determined to improve on last year’s disappointing first-round playoff exit.

Mansfield opened this postseason with a bi-district series against Temple, starting with Game 1 Friday night at Temple. The Tigers lost 2-1 in 13 innings. Facing elimination, the team returned home on Saturday and took consecutive games to win the series. And just as Haltom predicted, that senior leadership was a big factor in the Tigers exorcising some of the demons from last year’s playoff failure.

“It’s the leadership of my senior pitcher,” Haltom said. “That kid does not quit. The girls respect that, they follow that, they feed off of her. It’s something I haven’t seen in a long time in a kid to have that kind of leadership. She leads by example; she leads with her actions; she leads with her words. She’s an unbelievable teammate.”

Haltom came to Mansfield prior to last season, and immediately she knew she had something in Hubbard.

“You could see it right off the bat. You knew she was going to work hard and give everything she had,” Haltom said. “She was a little quiet at first, but as soon as I met her I knew she’d be a leader. She wanted to lead by example. She wasn’t very vocal last year, but this year she’s jumped into that role and done a great job.”

For Hubbard, leadership just seems to come naturally.

“I don’t have to think about it at all,” she said. “I’ve always had people look up to me.”

A prime example of her leadership was on display Friday night in the team’s marathon loss at Temple. Freshman second baseman Natalie Jackson committed a pair of errors in the same inning. Hubbard sprang into action.

“It’s a tight game, it’s getting into the later innings, and the pressure is building,” Haltom described. “We had an inning where our freshman second baseman made a couple of errors. Out of nowhere, Danielle calls timeout and brings the freshman over and puts her arm around her and talks to her. She gave her a hug and high-five. The very next pitch is a ground ball right to her and she makes the perfect play to end the inning. It’s just stuff like that. Sometimes that’s all it takes, just the little extra words of encouragement and they’re ready to go.”

“I could tell she was shaken up by it,” Hubbard said. “So I pulled her into the circle and put my arm around her and told her that everything was going to be OK, that I have her back, and she just smiled. The connection I have with her is amazing.”

Jackson was asked to be a big part of this year’s team, and she hasn’t disappointed.

“She doesn’t play like a freshman, she honestly plays like she could be a college athlete,” Hubbard said.

“She’s another type of kid that you want on your team,” Haltom added. “She comes to work every day, she will work as hard when no one is looking as she works when everyone is looking. She wants to get better every day; she’s fearless and has stepped into this role. She’s our starting second baseman, she’s our leadoff hitter, she’s not scared one bit.”

Jackson was one of just a handful of new faces this season for the Tigers, who were fueled from the opening pitch by last year’s memories.

“That was a pretty hard pill to swallow and left a pretty bad taste in our mouth, so we were pretty excited to get the playoffs started,” Haltom said. “Then when we dropped that game Friday night, it was like, ‘Uh, oh here it goes again.’ But the girls came out Saturday and they refused to let it happen and did the job to advance.”

“We really didn’t want to go home,” Hubbard said of the bus ride home after Friday’s loss. “We wanted to just go and play again and show them they aren’t the ones that will go to the second round.”

The Tigers pitcher was right; Mansfield did just that, winning both games Saturday 1-0 and 4-1 to reach the second round.

“I was really impressed and excited by what I saw from our kids on Saturday,” Haltom said. “I feel like we got a lot out of that and to come out of that with two wins … it’s all about momentum right now.”

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