Home field may help Mansfield in one-game softball playoff

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Temple at Mansfield

Class 5A bi-district

Mansfield was the second-place team in District 7-5A. Temple is the third-place seed from District 8-5A.

Key players

CF Bailee Baldwin: Was third in the area in hitting this season with a .571 regular-season average.

2B Natalie Jackson: Hit .319 this season with OPS of .927

P Casey Waterman: Recorded 14 victories in 86 innings and a 1.79 era.

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Mansfield softball coach Jennifer Haltom said she’s not that enthused about one-game playoffs.

So when Temple coach Julie Goodman wanted to flip for the option — instead of a best-of-three series — Goodman offered to sweeten the deal: In exchange for the one-gamer without flipping, and losing to the best-of-three format, Temple gave Friday’s home field advantage to Mansfield.

As a result, it will be a rare look at second- and third-place representatives in a one-game Class 5A bi-district playoff game at Mansfield High School.

“I certainly think a three-game series is the way to go,” Haltom said. “But when she said she’d play us up here, I figure no matter how many games we play, your best odds are at home.”

For Mansfield, those odds have drastically increased this year.

The Tigers are 23-4 and have put together a collection of offense and defense that has positioned them for their strongest playoff run yet under Haltom.

Temple (15-15) will counter with pitcher Lexi Smith, who has 309 strikeouts.

The last Mansfield team to reach at least the regional quarterfinal was in 2009.

Junior center fielder Bailee Baldwin is convinced the program now has the ability to leap to an elite level.

“Our defense wasn’t as good at the start of the year,” she said. “We’re 10 times better there, and we’re the kind of team that isn’t going to put up just a run or two. We’re going to swing the bats well and create some offense.”

With a team batting average of .390, the Tigers have scored 282 runs this year and have a team slugging percentage of .646.

Illustrative of Mansfield’s improvement, the Tigers were run-ruled by Mansfield Timberview and ace Mariah Denson 10-0 earlier this spring.

In the District 7-5A rematch, Mansfield returned the favor, blasting Denson with a nine-run inning in the bottom of the ninth to skate with a run-rule 10-0 win of their own.

Baldwin was 2-for-2 with a walk and three runs scored in that game.

“At the start of the year, it looked like it was going to be a rebuilding year,” Baldwin said. “But we began to improve and now we have a lot of confidence as well as drive. We’re at a point now where we want to be a team that doesn’t just survive.”

For Haltom, that kind of attitude is what she wanted when she took the coaching job three seasons ago after six years at Irving Nimitz.

“When I got here, the team was making the playoffs off and on and was already a strong program,” Haltom said.

“But I wanted them to believe they could do more and we’re starting to see that.”

Mansfield lost in the first round of the postseason in Haltom’s first season and was ousted in the area round last season by eventual state champion Lewisville.

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