A clutch hit, a key error, a timely strikeout. L.D. Bell softball coach Thomas Shives knows it’s the little things that make or break a team in the playoffs.
“The pitching gets better, so the hitting can go down,” said Shives, whose Lady Blue Raiders have qualified for the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. “The constant is defense, so I stressed them on that and emphasized that how we play defense is going to play a big part of how we win.”
Before the playoffs begin, Bell has one game remaining against district-leading Southlake Carroll. The game, originally scheduled for last Friday at Bell, was postponed by thunderstorms. The field remained too damp to make up the game last Saturday, so the teams were scheduled to play at 6 p.m. Monday at Bell, after the press deadline. See www.dfwvarsity.com for results and playoff pairing updates.
As it stands, Shives thinks his team will draw Midlothian, Mansfield or South Grand Prairie in the bi-district round. None would be a pushover.
“They’re good,” Shives said. “Midlothian is maybe a step underneath Mansfield and South, but they’re tough in that district -- they never seem to have a bad year. It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be a dogfight.”
One of the Lady Raiders Shives will count upon to execute good fundamentals is second baseman Hannah Duda.
“She will do the little things, get down and dirty, and she talks and tries to lead on the field,” Shives said. “Haltom (a 13-7 Bell victory last Monday) was her best defensive game on the field.
“Her first two years, she played first base,” Shives added. “This year, in order to get the best nine out there, I knew she could move to second base and not miss a beat. She said ‘no problem, I’ll do whatever.’”
The Lady Raiders will need that kind of stability in the playoffs. This season’s schedule has offered very little.
“It has been a very strange year to say the least,” Shives said. “The weather is just amazing – I think we’ve played maybe four or five games on their regular night, out of 12.”
The delays have made it hard for the team to build momentum.
“You try to get some going when you play a good game, you try to get hot late and get into the playoffs, but you don’t really know because you can’t get any rhythm going,” Shives said. “Honestly, every night it’s been hard to figure out if we’re going to have a good game.”
Last year Bell was knocked out of the bi-district round by Flower Mound Marcus, and while making the playoffs five years running is a big accomplishment, Shives said his players aren’t just happy to make a postseason appearance.
“We talk a lot about that stuff in the fall when we’re doing our conditioning, and they’re tired or not giving full effort or have a bad practice. I mention the groups that came before them and let them know that’s not how you do it. We’re not hoping to get into the playoffs, we expect to make the playoffs, and now we want to get to the next round,” Shives said.
The last time that happened was when the current team’s seniors were freshmen, and the team Bell defeated was Mansfield.
Regardless of who Bell draws in bi-district, Shives said he wants his players to focus on their defense and pitching.
“Offense, you can scrape together, and one error can change it,” he said. “It’s going to come down to one play that makes the difference in the playoffs.”