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Softball | General | 5/11/2022

Softball Scout Journal: May 11

Jerry Miller     
Photo: Perfect Game
Montgomery Lake Creek vs. Pflugerville Weiss – Region III, Conference 5A

Friday, May 6

Depending on which poll one might look at, Lake Creek out of Montgomery County in suburban north Houston is either the No. 1 (NFCA) or the No. 2 (Max Preps) team in the country. They entered the Area playoff round 32-0. They advanced to the Regional Quarterfinals in impressive style, defeating a solid Pflugerville Weiss HS team, 11-0, in a one-game, winner-take-all contest at Columbus HS.

The 33-0 Lions of Lake Creek are very talented. They play an advanced brand of ball. They are mature, focused, and come at opponents in waves. They overwhelm opponents with dominating pitching, air-tight defense, and suffocating offense.

LCHS, which has four NCAA D-I commits and six college-bound players in their starting lineup, is led by veteran head coach Michelle Rochinski, who has enjoyed great success in her 20+ year career. She is poised, and projects an image of confidence without arrogance. She has an obvious trust in her club that all great coaches do. Her players reflect her personality and play with a controlled abandon that is rarely seen at this level. It is not an exaggeration to say that this Lions team could play with a lot of college clubs at this very moment.

Lake Creek put their Area victory away early. The Lions scored five first-inning runs. They tallied a single marker in the third and then ensured victory with another five-spot in the bottom of the fourth. Meanwhile, all Weiss could muster was a walk in the top of the fifth. The game started at 6:30 and was over before the sun set.

Ava Brown, a junior who is committed to Tim Walton and the Florida Gators, is one of the top pitching prospects in the country. She throws five plus pitches with outstanding command and control. She challenges early and often. She pitched four perfect innings in the Lions' five-inning, run-rule victory over Weiss. Of the 12 batters she faced, she struck out nine. She is an old school power pitcher and is college-ready today. Remarkably, and almost unfairly to future LCHS opponents, she still has a year of high school ball remaining.

The Lions' offense is disciplined, aggressive, and cerebral. They understand the strike zone. They force pitchers to throw strikes and they run the bases with a style so daring that opponents are consistently forced into errors. The entire lineup runs the bags well. Rarely is a Lion baserunner on a particular base too long. They control the pace of the game through their actions at the plate and on the basepaths. Inattentive defenses get exploited early and often. Opponents look almost frozen as to how they can stop the Lake Creek offense. Most can’t.

Lake Creek’s toughest opponent could be complacency. That is doubtful, however, as their highly professional coaching staff and upperclass players are quite obviously locked in. This Lions club carries themselves like a champion should and are present in the moment. Although their goal is certainly a trip to Austin and the University of Texas’ McCombs Field for the State Finals the first weekend in June, Lake Creek looks to be perfectly content with taking care of whatever obstacle is directly in front of them. There is no looking past an opponent. They are laser focused on the task at hand.

It may take a tsunami of events, a “perfect storm,” to defeat this outstanding Lake Creek team. Any opponent would have to play their very best for a length of time, whether that is a one-game playoff or a three-game series. Conversely, Lake Creek would have to completely crater. Both scenarios look, at least on paper, to be highly unlikely. The Lions are just too talented and too determined. Stranger things have happened in sport, as one has to look no further than this past week’s Kentucky Derby. Lake Creek, however, wears the “favorites” coat well and won’t be letting their guard down.

Lake Creek is well coached and highly disciplined. They are battle tested and ready for whatever lies in front of them. One game at a time. One inning at a time. One pitch at a time.

Needville vs. Boerne – Region IV, Conference 4A

Saturday, May 7

Over the course of the past few years, both Needville and Boerne (BURN-ee) have seen their school population grow. Needville, a perennial small school power in many sports, but especially softball, is seeing Greater Houston expand into their area southwest of the fourth-largest population center in the country. Boerne, located north and west of San Antonio is feeling the rapid expansion of the Alamo City encroaching on its picturesque Hill County location.

The Blue Jays of Needville and the Greyhounds of Boerne still have that small school feel however, and that was evidenced with the large crowd that showed up in La Grange for the Area round series. The folks who back both of these schools, all of their athletic programs, and especially their softball teams are obviously invested. The crowds arrived early and were boisterous from the get-go. Every pitch and every play was to the spectators, “important.”  It was a great atmosphere.

Both of these teams are talented and well coached. Each competed at a high level. No team is going to want to tangle with Needville over the course of the next few years. No program is going to envy the task of facing Boerne this year.

Needville’s coach, Amber Schmidt, who has a state championship under her belt, ran a lineup out in the Area round whose middle-of-the-diamond infield featured a freshman pitcher and catcher, a sophomore shortstop, and a freshman second baseman. For good measure, a sophomore also played a number of innings at third base. On top of that, a freshman pitcher, who was sidelined due to an injury, will ultimately add to this young, talented nucleus. The future is very bright in Needville, and the Blue Jays have the makings of a team that will certainly have every opportunity to make a return trip to Austin and the state finals the next few seasons. As hard as they competed this past weekend, they were undone by their youth and obvious playoff inexperience. This group of talented young players, before they graduate, will make a lot of playoff noise.

By contrast, Boerne’s coach, Chester Pettibon, had one sophomore in his lineup, and she was his DP and hit ninth. That one sophomore is very talented and would probably be a top-of-the-order hitter for most programs. Not Boerne’s, however. Coach Pettibon starts all upperclass players who have obviously played a number of high leverage games and are built for success in May and June. The champions of District 28-4A are talented in all phases. They have pitching depth, play sound, almost mistake-free defense and they can put runs on the board in a hurry. They play the game the right way.

Needville has nothing to hang their heads about even though they lost 9-2 and 11-5. Boerne is singularly focused and has a mature, veteran club. Needville will be a force the next three years. They advanced this spring to the Area round with a club that only had a few older players in the lineup mix. Boerne, in comparison, is built for success this year and can run the table this spring.

Sulphur Springs vs. Red Oak – Region II, Conference 5A

Monday, May 9

Northeast Texas schools Sulphur Springs and Red Oak played their first game in their best-of-three series on Friday night. Then prom interrupted the playoffs for these two talented clubs, who didn’t resume their series until Monday evening.

They played an epic three-game set. There were two total runs scored in the first two games. TWO. Highly-favored Sulphur Springs, winners of four consecutive district crowns, won the first game, 1-0. When the teams returned to Grand Saline HS on Monday, they again tangled in a tight contest where any baserunner, and there were just a few, had the chance to be the game winner. Red Oak finally broke through to plate the winning run in the bottom of the seventh. Another 1-0 playoff game, this time won by the Hawks from Red Oak HS.

As fate would have it, the last ball game was again a one-run contest. This game, however, was different. Sulphur Springs carried a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning, only to see Red Oak, led by seniors Tabitha Jackson, Tori Fowler, and Jazelle Orozco, storm back, overcoming a SSHS lead that felt insurmountable. The Hawks plated seven runs over the course of the few remaining innings to close out the contest and take home the Area crown, 8-7. A wild, much deserved Red Oak celebration ensued as they literally snatched victory from defeat.

In an upset that can occasionally be found in this round of the playoffs, Red Oak, behind their upperclass leadership and never-say-die enthusiasm, overcame all the odds to advance to the Regional quarterfinals.

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