The best part about Byron Nelson’s softball season is that it’s still going. Following an up-and-down regular season, the Lady Bobcats managed to make the playoffs and win their bi-district series.
Nelson (17-12) finished tied for third in District 5-4A with a 10-4 record but swept its Region I bi-district series against Saginaw Chisholm Trail last Thursday and Friday. The Lady Bobcats begin a best-of-three area playoff series against Aledo beginning on Thursday.
Game 1 is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Aledo. Game 2 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Nelson. A potential deciding third game would be played at 2 p.m. Saturday at Nelson.
Head coach Kathy Schoettle recognized this team would likely start slow when the season began in February. Still, she believed the challenging non-district schedule would give her team the toughness it needed when district play began.
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“In our most recent series we have really hit the ball well. We had a lot of consistency throughout the lineup in those games,” Schoettle said. “In the last two games combined, we scored in all 11 innings. When we didn’t hit the ball well we put the ball in play, which gave us the chance to do more on the bases.”
Using seven sophomores, the Lady Bobcats began district play at 5-8 but found their stride. They finished behind district champion Azle (13-1) and runner-up Denton Guyer (11-3). Nelson tied with White Settlement Brewer for third but earned the third seed because it swept the season series from the Lady Bears.
“We saw a lot of good teams like Richland, Plano West and Burleson Centennial, so we took a lot from it,” Schoettle said. “We used every between inning huddle, every practice and every other moment as learning moments. They really responded.”
Leading the charge against the Rangers were sophomore catcher Chelsie McClure, senior shortstop Haley Gray and senior second baseman Ashley Silva.
“Chelsie has been hot at the plate. She went 4-for-4 with three doubles in game one and 5-for-5 with a double, a home run and four RBIs in game two,” Schoettle said. “The only reason she had only one RBI in game one is because the people before her kept clearing the bases, and she was putting herself in scoring position for the people hitting behind her.”
While the future is currently on the field, the present still makes the difference. And it comes with one of the most importantly relationships on a team. Gray and Silva have provided stellar defensive play up the middle through experience and communication.
“Hayley and Ashley have been our starting middle since their freshman year,” Schoettle said. “They really are leaders. We had a strong group of seniors last year and they (Gray and Silva) have really taken on that role this year.”
They also have led this lineup. Gray, who has signed with North Greenville University in Greenville, S.C., earned the right to be called one of the most feared leadoff hitters. She’s batting .367 for season and has 26 stolen bases.
For Silva, it’s been pretty much a carbon copy. She leads the team with 24 RBIs and has 14 stolen bases while batting .370. She hit .667 in the bi-district playoff series. McClure has also been coming on strong this year, batting .400. She went 9-9 against Chisholm Trail.
Growing with sophomores means there will be bumps. Schoettle has gone with Edie Fairchild and Izzy Milligan. Fairchild has had the better of the two seasons with a 13-5 record and 3.61 ERA. She has thrown three shutouts.
Meanwhile Milligan has had to learn about making adjustments. She’s 4-7 with a 5.20 ERA and one save. Both have been fighting command. Fairchild has struck out 42 while walking 59. Milligan has struck out only eight but walked 49.
“It’s just a learning process for both for both of them,” Schoettle said. “The more experience they get, the better they will be for it. They’ve come a long way from the beginning of the season.”
The Lady Bobcats are a fairly young team with six sophomores, one junior and two seniors. Still, going into this week’s area games against Aledo, Schoettle is confident that her team is prepared for the competition.
“We haven’t faced Aledo in two years but we are pretty evenly matched if we are both playing our game,” she said. “I don’t see either team having a big inning unless someone just falls apart on defense.”
Heading to area for the third time in as many years has given Schoettle plenty of experience with what it takes to advance.
“We are going to have to keep the score close,” she said. “Consistency is key at this time of year and I think it will come down to which team will get the key hit with a runner in scoring position and who is making the routine plays.”
- Emily Evans contributed to this report.