After an early exit in the area-round series of the softball playoffs last season, Mansfield Timberview coach Donya Mooney said her team talked about the loss afterward and went to a team dinner that night.Then the subject never came up again.After all, as Mooney pointed out, the Flower Mound Marcus team that dispatched the Wolves 2-1, lost in the regional finals to eventual Class 5A state champion Lewisville.“It wasn’t like we lost to a bad team or played bad,” Mooney said. “I thought our game plan was sound. I think after looking back on the video and going over it, we lost some patience at the plate and allowed their pitcher to gain some confidence on us.”As the 2014 UIL softball season begins Monday, Timberview not only finds itself on the radar screen as one of the top area teams to watch but is looking for ways to get over the playoff hurdle.While none of the area Class 5A teams appear in the Texas Girls Coaches Association preseason state poll, two 4A teams are in the top 10.Aledo, which welcomes Trinity Valley School transfer and Texas A&M commit Riley Sartain, is ranked No. 3. Mansfield Legacy, which returns standout pitcher Kendall Potts, is ranked seventh. Kennedale is fifth in the 3A poll.The Wolves, though, could crash the 5A party this season. They have four key seniors, three of whom signed letters of intent in the fall to play in college, and there’s sophomore pitcher Mariah Denson.Denson’s success included a record of 20-4 as well as 197 strikeouts last season. She has already committed to Oklahoma State for 2016.Despite having a strong weapon in the circle, it’s been Timberview’s lineup that has really brought the program to a new level, Mooney said.Catcher Ashley Timmons, center fielder Baylea Higgs and middle infielder Maddie Munoz added the scoring punch that foiled many in 2013.“When we started here, we clawed our way through season after season and when Mariah came along, all the pieces were in place,” Mooney said. “But Ashley really gave her a lot of confidence with the kind of game that she calls, and Maddie just seems to be this incredibly clutch player. There’s very few times that she has stepped to the plate and hasn’t done something to keep us going.”Munoz, the only senior not to sign a letter of intent, will attend Texas A&M on an academic scholarship, and Mooney said her softball intellect is a result of that. She hit .350 and led the team in RBIs last year.Timmons, hitting in the cleanup spot, had eight home runs and a .419 average. Mooney said Timmons’ leadership has been instrumental in how the team perceives what is possible this season.“There’s not any added pressure,” Timmons said. “I think we kind of let things get away from us last year, but if we stick together and stay patient, we can go farther.”Higgs recommitted to her game in 2012 and it resulted in a scholarship to Texas A&M-Commerce next season.She’s speedy, having stolen 30 bases last season. Conversely, Timmons gave up only eight stolen bases while catching every game for Timberview last season. “That’s a big advantage for us when she gets on or when she’s at the plate,” Mooney said of Higgs’ speed. “She actually has some power in her slap swing, and there’s plenty of times when she puts the ball in play that she’ll stretch those to doubles and triples.”Mayan Tovar brings an added dimension as well, hitting seventh and giving the Wolves pop at the bottom of the order as well as defensive flexibilty.She can play the middle infield or rotate to the outfield.Now with a stacked lineup and strong pitching, Mooney said she knows what will improve her team after losing the Marcus series.“I don’t think we had seen the variety of pitching that Marcus threw at us,” she said. “We talked about it, looked at film and practiced it some, but we were not really prepared to hit someone of that caliber. “We’re going to play tournaments in Houston this season and scheduled some tougher non-district opponents.”
Teams to watch
Mansfield Timberview (23-4): Knocked out of playoffs last year by Flower Mound Marcus, hoping simpler plate approach will translate to more playoff success.
Keller (30-6): Varsity assistant Bryan Poehler is the new head coach of a program that has made the playoffs 18 of 19 years. Five starters are back.
Aledo (40-4): The Bearcats were semifinalists in 2013. Now they have Texas A&M commit Riley Sartain as an additional threat in the lineup.
Mansfield Legacy (31-9): The Broncos lost to state runner-up Lucas Lovejoy in the 2013 regional finals.
Richland (31-6): Eight starters return for a district-championship team that went three rounds deep in the playoffs.
Players to watch
Kendall Potts, Mansfield Legacy: Was not in 2012 form last season battling through injury, but came on to throw 59 1/3 innings with 96 strikeouts.
Lauren Heintzelman, Southlake Carroll: Virginia signee hit .398 with 37 RBI.
Alex Schneider, Southlake Carroll: Had 22 extra bases hits last season, hit .465 and signed with Texas Tech.
Mariah Denson, Mansfield Timberview: Committed to Oklahoma State for 2016, won 20 games as a freshman.
Madison Montgomery, Burleson: Hit .583 with 43 RBIs and signed with Oklahoma State.
Riley Sartain, Aledo: Hit .684 at Trinity Valley, earned second-team Star-Telegram Super Team selection.
Daniella Chavez, Crowley: Signed last fall with Kansas.
Kaitlyn Alderink, Keller: Texas A&M commit hit .471 with 34 RBIs.
Haley Bowden, Aledo: First-team all-area last season and hit .558.
Maddi Holcomb, Richland: Hit .589 last season with 48 runs scored.
Emilie Blair, Joshua: Hit .510 in 2013 with 17 extra base hits.
McKenna Moore, Birdville: Had 22 RBIs, 21 steals and hit .447.
Kelsey O’Brien, Weatherford: Had .668 slugging percentage on way to Super Team selection.
Jordyn James, Arlington Martin: Oklahoma State signee.
Hailie Henson, Colleyville Heritage: Hit .368 last season and signed with Central Florida.