A season that began with a youthful roster ended with a fifth consecutive playoff appearance and a lot of optimism for the future for the L.D. Bell Lady Raiders softball team.
Coach Thomas Shives’ roster featured two seniors, five juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen.
“I’m excited for the girls that are returning. There is a lot of experience coming back,” he said. “I’m hoping that they’re not satisfied with just getting in and not advancing. I’m hoping that it will fuel them into pushing this team to new heights for next year. Matter of fact, I would be disappointed if it didn’t.”
The youth and inexperience showed in an up-and-down start to the season. The Lady Raiders (11-15, 7-5 in District 7-6A) won three out of their first five before dropping seven straight, including five in an elite tournament in Houston.
“It’s tough to gauge because we were dealing with Mackensi [Mankel, sophomore pitcher] getting hurt there. She was pitching really well at the time and showed signs of being dominant,” Shives said of the tournament. “Ashley Robinson and Kenzi made a strong one-two punch.” Robinson, a sophomore, was 8-9 with a 3.27 ERA.
“It took us awhile to adjust. Also, Valerie [Page, a junior who batted .354], our shortstop, suffered an injury to her foot and missed most of the tournament. But the girls battled and stuck together and fought through it, and found themselves in the playoffs because of it. I am very proud of how they never gave in or made excuses, just stuck together and played their hearts out.”
District was a roller-coaster as the Lady Raiders started 3-0 but were 3-3 at the midpoint. They won four of their next five and entered the playoffs having gone 7-5 in league play.
The highlight of the season also came in the second half of district, Shives said, a 13-7 win over Haltom to clinch a playoff berth. But it wasn’t an ordinary victory.
“We were down 7-3 in the fifth and battled back to win 13-7, knowing what was on the line,” he said. “It showed a lot of fight and guts from the girls.”
A pleasant surprise, Shives said, was the performance of his three freshmen.
“We knew they had some talent but you never know how that’s going to play out in varsity competition. Randi Castillo started all year and led our team in home runs and RBIs and, with Audrey Bates was our best, most consistent hitter.” Castillo, a catcher and infielder, batted .452 with four home runs and 36 RBI. Bates hit a team-high .486 and 10 doubles, and contributed 27 RBI.
“Alicia Marion, we didn’t find out about her until late last summer, so she was a surprise. All she did was start at center field from Day 1, not to mention became our No. 2 pitcher after Kensi went down with ACL injury. She pitched really well the second half of district and helped us get Ashley some rest,” Shives said. Marion batted .353 with 11 RBIs, and on from the circle went 2-2 with a 1.64 ERA.
“And our third varsity freshman, Peyton Newman, started from Day 1 in right field and first base, and really started to take off later in the season and help us win games.”
In bi-district, the Lady Raiders pushed Mansfield before falling 10-7. Bell led 6-4 after the third inning.
“I think the competitive district showed up in our bidistrict rounds with District 8,” Shives said. “Only Southlake Carroll advanced, but all games were very competitive.
“The records that District 8 came in with would suggest they were much better, but all of them had to fight to the end to advance to the next round. Hopefully the competition will give the girls a better understanding of what to expect and what we need to do to advance next year,” Shives added. “And I expect our District 7 to be even more competitive next year. Not a lot of turnover for most teams.”
That said, Shives pointed out that even though the Lady Raiders have almost the entire team back next season, no position is guaranteed.
“Everyone has to compete and win spots again, every year,” he said. “We have some pretty good JV players. They will compete for spots, and also incoming freshmen.
“Competition only helps our team get better. I’m looking forward to the battles.”