By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (May 5, 2016) — Every day to begin practice, Kali Smith and Emily Miller lead their team on a familiar rout, jogging a path between the foul poles at McCleskey Field in Stephenville City Park.
There is nothing familiar, however, about where Smith and Miller hope to lead the Honeybees next.
For just the second time in school history, No. 9 Stephenville is on to the area round of the UIL softball playoffs. They face Alvarado at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, with game three, if needed, set for 10 a.m. Saturday, all at Glen Rose High School.
Never have they advanced past this round and on to the regional quarterfinals, but that’s exactly where the only seniors on the roster hope to lead a Honeybee team featuring primarily underclassmen.
“It would mean the world to me. Our team has given it their all this year, so it would feel great to win and get there,” said Smith.
“We want it really bad,” echoed Miller. “To winn in this round would mean a lot to us as seniors, but also to everybody and for the program.”
Smith is a leader of the infield from her spot at second base, but her biggest strength is at the plate. She leads the team in batting average at .488 and on-base percentage at .552, and is tied for the team lead with 16 extra-base hits, accounting for 39 percent of her 41 total hits in just 27 games.
By knocking out Wichita Falls Hirschi, 19-0, on the first day playoff games could be played – Wednesday, April 27 – Smith, Miller and others had the opportunity to watch Alvarado take on Bridgeport in its bi-district series last weekend. Alvarado swept its way to the area round, winning 2-1 in eight innings in game one and 6-5 in game two.
“It was good to see them, see how they play and where their pitches are,” said Smith. “They seem to pitch more outside and I think we hit good against outside pitches.”
She also feels the Honeybees have a complete batting order that gives them an advantage.
“I feel like we’re strong all the way through, and we watched Alvarado, and they’re not, so we feel like we have an advantage there,” Smith said.
While she’s confident, it isn’t lost on either senior that they lost to Alvarado early in the season. Twice.
Alvarado won in its final at bat each time, 5-4 in each club’s season opener on February 16, and 6-4 at the end of a tournament on February 20.
“They did beat us, but we weren’t all the way there,” Smith said. “We were missing some players both times, and we’re just a whole different team now.”
Among the missing players for the second meeting with Alvarado was Smith, who dislocated her elbow earlier the same day, the reason she has played in just 23 games.
“I’m really excited because I feel like I could have helped us when we played them,” said Miller, and her role on the team certainly suggests she could have made a difference.
As first baseman, Miller is involved in the bulk of the plays in the infield. At least when sophomore sensation Julia Flores isn’t striking batters out from the circle. But Miller is also a weapon in the batter’s box with a .321 average and 17 hits in just 23 games. She reaches base almost half the time she steps up, sporting an on-base percentage of .463.
“I just think we definitely don’t have any weaknesses in our lineup, so if we keep backing up (Flores) with good defense I think we can do it,” Smith said.
That confidence level is well founded. Since the second loss to Alvarado, Stephenville (23-9) has won 21 of 25 games, setting a program record for wins in a season while earning its first district championship. The Honeybees now find themselves in the top 10 of the Texas Girls Coaches Association rankings for the first time ever.
“We have a lot of confidence now because we’ve proven a lot and are coming off a lot of wins,” said Miller. “I know we’re a lot better team than when we played them before.”
Even with their senior prom on tap Saturday night, Miller and Smith each say they are more excited about the softball playoffs and a chance at school history.
“I’m more excited about the playoffs than prom any day,” said Miller, to which Smith quickly replied, “I say we just win the first two games Friday and not have to worry about it.”
Any two wins this weekend would mean more school history for a team that has already achieved its fair share of such this season.
“Being in the second round is great, we’re glad to get as far as any team before us has,” Smith said. “But we aren’t done. Winning this round would mean we leave a legacy here as the best team we’ve ever had. That’s what we want.”