Eerie it is to me how similar are the postseason journeys of the women’s golf and softball teams at Tarleton State.
Perhaps it’s Julie Mata, the only head coach Tarleton softball has ever known, doing her best Jerry Doyle impression. Or perhaps even Doyle, who has led Tarleton women’s golf to eight regional titles the last nine years and is gearing up his Super Region IV champs for this week’s national finals in Michigan, who should take notes from Mata to find a way to ascertain that national championship his program has spent the last decade stalking.
Either way, both coaches have a lot to teach, and both clearly aren’t afraid to continue to learn. That’s why they get better as seasons go on. That’s why they are where they are today.
And a big day it is for TexAnn softball. The biggest day in program history, in fact.
As Tarleton Athletic Communications Director Nathan Bural penned so well in the lede to his story (here) from Saturday’s victory over Cameron, “There is one team in the driver’s seat for the NCAA Division II South Central Region I Championship – and for the first time in school history – that is the Tarleton State TexAnns.
These TexAnns didn’t figure to be regional championship contenders when they slipped into the tournament as the No. 8 seed. A team on the rise? Yes. A contender? Not yet.
Doyle has done it time and again with golf. Freshmen play key roles and the TexAnns continue to dominate. And for the record, Doyle’s team didn’t look like a regional contender as late as the end of the opening round out in California, but the “grass whisperer” and his ladies took over in round two and there was no stopping them in round three.
Loss Reisman even did it. Sure, there were times senior guard Mo Lee put Tarleton’s national semifinalist men’s basketball team on his back and carried them, but there were also times Reisman and staff were equally reliant on freshman Nosa Ebomwonyi, and even Deshawn Riddick, for that matter.
Now it’s Mata’s turn. And she’s stirring up the South Central Region with her own youth movement.
Only one senior can be found on the Tarleton softball roster, none who have played in the opening two games of the regional tournament at beautiful Schaeffer Park in Canyon. Four juniors have played key roles, but the majority of the TexAnn damage comes from sophomores and freshmen.
Yes, the future of TexAnn softball looks so bright it puts to shame the neon lights of the Vegas strip.
Haley Freyman and battery mate Nyka Wood came together from Richland High School in North Richland Hills. They are true freshmen, but have been working together as long as any senior batteries. They were the biggest home runs of Mata’s 2014-15 recruiting class, with Freyman racking up 22 wins and Wood batting .393 with 66 hits, six home runs and 53 runs batted in. The young catcher is also great defensively, with a .973 fielding percentage while gunning down 15 runners on the base paths and helping turn three double plays from behind the plate.
Erika Menchaca is just a sophomore and has 10 home runs this season and 14 for her career. Mikayla Stogsdill, a .326 hitter who has played in 39 of 52 games, is also a sophomore along with other contributors.
Even Stephenville product Katelyn Conlee has a year left. The junior who led the Honeybees to their first-ever playoff appearance and only bi-district title in high school softball now has the opportunity to lead her hometown university to its first ever regional title and super regional appearance. She leads the team in batting average (.398), hits (70), home runs (11) and runs batted in (54).
Shelby Hedrick has another year, too. All she’s done to turn heads the last two days is toss 5.2 shutout innings of relief and picked up two saves. This after earning just one save throughout the regular season.
Yes, the future is bright, but I digress.
Today is not about the future. Who knows what will happen over the next year? Two? Even three?
Nobody. You only have today, and today the TexAnns have a shot at history.
Doyle understands that. That’s why he’s done it eight times in nine years, not just two or three. He doesn’t wait until his players are juniors or seniors to expect greatness from them. He expects it immediately, and he finds a way to coach it out of them at just the right moment, seemingly every year.
Now it’s Mata’s turn.
The TexAnns face Cameron. Because Tarleton defeated the Lady Aggies 8-4 Saturday and are unbeaten in the tournament, they have the advantage. If the TexAnns win at 1:30 p.m. today, they are South Central Region I champs. If they lose they get one final shot in the biggest ‘elimination game’ in school history.
Simply put, Tarleton just needs to win. Cameron must sweep a doubleheader.
The TexAnns can’t simply wait because they are young and the future is bright.
The time is now, and the opportunity is there.
The opportunity for Mata to pull a Doyle.
The opportunity for Tarleton softball to become regional champions.
Brad Keith, a 2008 Tarleton State grad, is the 2013-14 Lone Star Conference Sportswriter of the Year in addition to past awards. He is a previous sports editor of The Stephenville Empire-Tribune, sports director for KCUB-FM radio and Tarleton sports radio broadcaster, the Dublin native brings 15 years experience to local sports coverage to The Flash. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole. To contact Brad, do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.