The Aledo softball team returns to Austin this weekend for the UIL Class 4A state tournament, and a rematch of last year’s Class 4A semifinal against Buda Hays.
Aledo (31-4) plays Hays (31-5) at noon Friday at McCombs Field. The Rebels beat Aledo 8-1 last season.
“Last year’s season had an entirely different feel,” Aledo coach Jeff Lemons said. “We also had an emotional regional final series, and then some intangibles the day of the state semifinal that I felt like the girls were not experienced for.”
Fast forward a year, and Aledo’s five juniors, three seniors and two sophomores boast a .442 team batting average — 52 points better than 2013 — and they have scored 115 more runs.
“Almost from the moment we left Austin last year, the would-be seniors started talking about coming back,” Lemons said. “And it was more a statement of fact really than a question of if.”
Senior center fielder Haylee Bowden was one of those talking big. She has team-highs with 124 plate appearances and 58 runs scored.
Aledo also had some additions to its lineup, with senior catcher Megan Mason returning from injury to hit .476 and Trinity Valley transfer Riley Sartain at third base to help turn the power up a notch as well. Each has hit eight home runs this season.
As a team, Aledo hit 33 home runs, what Lemons believes is a school record.
Pitcher Lauren Craine followed up her sophomore season, when she was 30-3 with 146 strikeouts, with an equally impressive junior campaign, going 24-1 with 137 strikeouts.
“Lauren gave up a lot of hits last season when hitters got two strikes,” Lemons said. “All hitters are swinging at that point, and she had a tendency to leave one over the plate in that case. Her strikeout numbers are not the same, but that’s because she gets a lot of ground balls now.”
The Bearcats are 71-8 the past two seasons, including 19-1 in the playoffs.
“We’d like a couple of more [wins], that’s for sure,” Lemons said.
With its baseball team in the regional finals, Aledo is one of three Texas schools with teams still playing softball and baseball, along with 2A East Bernard and Class A Weimar.
In baseball, the Bearcats (30-6) take on Lubbock Monterey (32-9) in a best-of-three series beginning Thursday at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. Game 2 is Friday and Game 3, if necessary, is Saturday.
Aledo senior third baseman and pitcher Taco Anderson said making a deep playoff run alongside the softball team has helped take some of the pressure off the baseball team, and it has been a fun experience.
Anderson said quality pitching has been biggest adjustment in the playoffs.
“Our hitters just have a rough time getting their timing down,” Anderson said. “Now that we’ve worked on hitting to the opposite field, we’ve been doing really well. We just need to stay inside the ball.”