By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (MAY 10, 2016) — In case you haven’t heard, Stephenville softball has become kind of a big deal.
Enough so players are being congratulated at pre-prom dinners 50 miles from home.
“We went to Weatherford (last Saturday) to eat before prom, and a person from Weatherford came up to us and asked if there were any baseball or softball players there and he congratulated us and wished us good luck,” said Sami Shaffer, junior short stop for the area champion Stephenville softball team. “I didn’t know him, it was just a random person, but it was cool. I guess we’re doing well enough people in Weatherford have heard about us.”
People throughout District 6-4A and in Wichita Falls and Alvarado certainly have. And now it’s Kennedale’s turn to get to know No. 7 Stephenville and its youth-filled roster.
Stephenville meets Kennedale in Brock for a best-of-three Region I-4A quarterfinal series. Game one starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday with games two and three, if needed, in a doubleheader beginning at 5 p.m. Friday.
It’s the deepest Stephenville (25-9) has ever journeyed in the playoffs, the most wins in program history, the highest ranking the Honeybees have ever garnered from the Texas Girls Coaches Association and it all follows the program’s first district title.
“I thought we would go deep my freshman year because we had seven seniors, but we ended up losing in the first round (to Lampasas),” Shaffer said. “This year, I don’t know that anybody except us expected it because we have such a young team.”
And because standing in the way in the area round was Alvarado, which had defeated Stephenville twice early in the season. But the Honeybees were the better team for 14 consecutive innings last Friday in Glen Rose, winning 6-2 and 3-1 for the first area championship in program history.
“This is definitely a different feeling from the past two years since we’ve actually made it past round one,” said Shaffer, among the team’s statistical leaders in several categories while also spearheading a solid defensive unit. “It’s a lot more fun because we’ve been winning so much.”
Shaffer believes Stephenville’s season took off when senior first baseman Emily Miller returned from injury. Miller suffered a dislocated elbow in a tournament, and Alvarado, for the second time in a week, edged the Honeybees in its last at bat of the next game.
“When Emily got hurt, we were a little iffy at first because we had to move some players around,” Shaffer explained. “Then when she came back, it was like her presence changed our attitude and pumped us up for the season.”
Miller and second baseman Kali Smith are the only seniors on the team.
“Everybody loves them, there is nobody on the team that doesn’t get along with them,” Shaffer said of the seniors. “They know who to push and who to take it easy on when they make mistakes. They know everyone so well, and they’re good at leading us.”
Miller’s return to the lineup isn’t the only moment that has stood out for Shaffer.
“Winning Snyder (tournament) was a big one, everyone was pumped about that. And of course winning area, especially coming back from losing twice to Alvarado early in the year. That was big for us,” she said. “There were a lot of smaller moments, too, like in the Snyder tournament when me and Kali turned two double plays in one day.”
Just as strong as her game in the field is her prowess at the plate. Shaffer, who has started all 34 games for Stephenville, is hitting .418 with with 17 extra-base hits including three home runs. She has 31 RBI, trailing only the 34 by junior third baseman Nadine Arredondo for the team lead.
It should come as no surprise Shaffer has often played a starring role as the Honeybees have built on their success. She doesn’t just play softball, after all. She lives it.
“I just love playing every day. I live, eat and breathe softball,” she said. “I play select year round. I have softball on the weekends after this during the week. It’s seven days a week and I love everything about it, especially just being out here with the girls on my teams.
She hopes to keep playing with this Honeybee team beyond this weekend’s action in Brock.
“We just have to play every game like its our last, that’s all we can do,” Shaffer said. “I know for me, and especially for the seniors, we’re looking at it like it could end anytime, so let’s give it our all and go out with a bang.”