When Mansfield’s eighth-inning rally ended two runs short on Friday, allowing Keller to advance into the regional quarterfinals, it meant the end of the season for 17 varsity softball players. For three of those, it was their final high school game in the black and gold.
“They’re a small senior class in sheer numbers, but they’re going to be very hard to replace,” coach Jennifer Haltom said. “You’re talking about three kids who not only lead us defensively, but offensively as well.”
Haltom speaks of pitcher Casey Waterman and outfielders Bailee Baldwin and Lexus Gonzales. It so happens these seniors were also the first incoming class for Haltom as the head coach of the Lady Tigers.
“This season was one I was looking forward to since I got here,” Haltom said. “I knew with these seniors, when they were freshmen, that they were going to make a good run. Great kids, good leaders. Lots of fun to coach for four years.”
Mansfield closes the book on 2015 with a 21-6 overall record and a co-district championship. For the second consecutive year, the Lady Tigers were bounced from the area round of the playoffs. You won’t hear many excuses or complaints from this group, especially the seniors, even if they feel the potential was always there for more.
“We expected a lot more from our season,” said Waterman, who was 3-for-4 with a home run in Friday’s loss. “Coming in, we felt like we had so much talent and incoming players that were going to contribute to the team. They absolutely did that. It just seemed that at the end of the season we never got the ball rolling all the way. We never put all the pieces together to do what this team expected to do.”
“I think we ended well,” Gonzales, who had four hits against Keller on Friday, added. “We had a lot of potential. They’ll have another chance next year. There’s a lot of talented girls on the team and I think they could go another round next year. I was telling some of the younger girls who were crying, there’s no reason to cry, you’ll have another shot next year.”
All three seniors were quick to praise the team for its fight and determination throughout the year.
“I’m really proud of my team for fighting until the very end, even that last inning,” said Baldwin, who also homered in the season finale. “We came up short, but I don’t regret anything. I’m just proud of everyone and especially the seniors for always fighting through. It wasn’t really how we wanted to end the season, but at least with no regrets.”
It will be an emotional parting for the coach and her first full, four-year class – from both sides.
“Every year has been dramatically different, but it’s been a really great four years,” Baldwin said. “I can say that Coach Haltom is the best coach I’ve ever had. She’s been amazing these four years.”
Waterman had similar sentiments.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “Every season has been different. Overall, the ride has been really great. I really wish we could have put the pieces together and done something great this year, but that’s just kind of how it goes sometimes.”
And while players and coaches certainly would like to have seen additional playoff rounds, there’s a reality that comes with competing in a softball hotbed.
“We never gave up in that game. Someone had to lose, it just happened to be us,” Gonzales said. “We fought until the end and I could be any more proud of my team.”
Similarly, Haltom couldn’t have asked for more from her three departing seniors.
“I had lofty expectations and they lived up to every bit of it.”