You don’t build a successful high school softball program with hit-and-miss leadership. A good program develops the leadership each and every year so that a culture perpetuates the success.
For Mansfield, there’s no hit-and-miss leadership. In fact, it’s more like hit-and-hit … and hit-and-hit.
Many of the reasons why Mansfield’s head coach Jennifer Haltom is able to put quality teams on the field the last few years are now seniors.
Morgan Rios has been behind the plate for four years now, while fellow seniors Kaitlin Richards (first base), Sarah Reinke (shortstop) and Resheda Townsend (third base) have been starters since their sophomore years.
“All four are tops in most offensive categories and they anchor my infield,” Haltom said.
Indeed, the four seniors take great pride in their ability to hit the ball.
In the last eight games leading up to its Friday game with Arlington Martin, Mansfield had averaged 8.9 runs per game.
Townsend had already registered five homeruns before the Friday game.
“We’re really good as a whole team,” Townsend said of the Lady Tigers’ hitting.
And offense figures into what it will take for the Lady Tigers to get back to the playoffs and at least match their third-round appearance.
“As long as we hit,” Townsend explained as to what the key will be. “If you score more than they do, you win the game.”
The pressure may be on the quartet’s hitting more than on their leadership skills.
All four noted that the responsibilities for leading the team have come easier as their time on the squad increased.
They also attribute the tradition and the skill set of those who came before them as reasons why the Mansfield program has remained strong.
“There have been great leaders before us,” Reinke said.
“I think coming in as a freshman and even my sophomore year, there were a lot of seniors who have set an amazing example and they want you to be up there, too,” Richards said. “They taught to work hard and never give up.”
Rios had an inspiring take on her fourth season at Mansfield.
“The way all four of us seniors have stepped up and taken on this leadership role has been something magical,” Rios said. “I think it’s something that makes our team special. We’ve been able to create this chemistry and environment where every player is selfless.”
There has also been an evolving of the leadership over the course of the four years.
“I’ve seen the way this team has evolved,” Rios said. “Over time we’ve bonded stronger, correlating with how over the years all of the seniors progressed into being better and better leaders. It’s not something you see in every team, every senior sharing the same goal and passion for the game that they help carry down for the younger girls. Takes us to a whole new level.”
Even though the four seniors have ample experience, they admit they aren’t resistant to learning each week.
They pointed to a 10-run loss to Paschal when they felt their energy was low and, by their standards, the bats were silent even though they plated five runs.
The next outing, the Lady Tigers belted Legacy, 17-10.
“We’re a good, solid team but we just always have to show up,” Reinke said. “We need a lot of energy. When we’re loose, we do better.”
The pressure from Haltom is for them to just live up to their potential.
“She expects a lot out of us,” Reinke said. “She knows what we’re capable of.”
But where this team goes this season remains to be seen as the district schedule unfolds.
“I’m excited to see how far we will go,” Rios said, hoping to add her third district title. “We’ve been through a lot as a team already due to injuries and other issues, but I think it’s going to help us in the long run. It’s really shaped us and given us this motivation. I really believe in this team. As long as we play lights-out defense and keep hitting the ball like we know how, we should easily surpass our third-round run.”
All four will be playing next year at the next level.
Reinke will play at Arkansas Tech, Rios is going to Louisiana Monroe, Townsend to Prairie View A&M and Richards will be at McLennan Junior College.