By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (May 5, 2017) — Stephenville won its first outright district championship a season ago, but Brownwood had the last laugh, winning the regional championship to advance to the state tournament.
That league of heavyweights also included Abilene Wylie, Mineral Wells and Graham. They have gone separate directions following UIL realignment, but the playoffs reunites 2016 district and regional champs in a Region I-4A playoff series this weekend.
The Honeybees and Lady Lions begin their best of three series at 6 p.m. Friday, with Game 2 starting 30 minutes after Game 1. If they split, Game 3 is set for 12:30 p.m. Saturday, all at Brock High School.
Stephenville, ranked as high as No. 5 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association 4A poll late in the regular season, won its second outright district title in 8-4A before amassing 33 runs to sweep Springtown in a bi-district series last week. Brownwood, meanwhile, has been ranked as high as No. 8 this season, and is coming off a three-game win over Burkburnett.
“You hate having to see two teams that have had such strong seasons this early in the playoffs, but it is what it is,” said Stephenville head coach Rus Mayes. “Abilene Wylie is also very good, and Brownwood lost a district championship tie-breaker to them (1-0 was the score), so that put Brownwood on our side of the bracket. But if it had gone the other way we would be playing Wylie and it would still be tough. This is just a big round, and we’ll have to play our best game.”
Especially without catcher Sami Shaffer, who has been out since a car accident left her with a broken arm. She missed the end of the regular season and last week’s bi-district series, when Stephenville won 16-11 and 17-7 over Springtown.
The Porcupines did manage 18 runs against the Bees without pitcher Julia Flores in the circle. The role of Flores, who was out last week with a hand injury, is a game-day decision, according to Mayes. The good news is Sam Luna and Bianka Garcia have now worked some significant innings if needed.
Brownwood has premier pitcher in the circle itself in UT-Arlington verbal commit Cheyanne Ellett. She’s thrown two recent no hitters as a sophomore after leading the Lady Lions to the state tournament as a freshman.
“She’s been so effective the defense hasn’t really had to make a lot of plays,” said Mayes. “For us, it’s crucial to put the ball in play and make them make plays defensively.”
The Bees average more than 11 runs per game this season, and blew up last week with a home run and five RBI by Nadine Arredondo along with an early three-run homer by Jessica Howell in Game 1, followed by four RBI by Morgan DiCiccio in Game 2. All that was without Flores and Shaffer, who combined for 12 home runs and 65 RBI in the regular season.
“Obviously we won’t have Sami and we hope to have Julia, but we aren’t really reliable on one hitter, we’ve shown all season that we can hit up and down the lineup, and that’s what it takes against a good pitcher like (Ellett),” said Mayes.
Even without Shaffer and Flores, the Bees have six regulars in the lineup batting over .300, led by Arredondo at .564 with school records in home runs (12) and RBI (53). They are hitting .412 as a team.
Mayes expects both teams to apply pressure to the other’s defense, whoever is in the circle.
“I’m sure they look at our defense and say the same thing I said about theirs,” says Mayes. “We’ve had Julia recording a lot of outs herself with strikeouts, and I’m sure they want to make contact and force us to make plays, too. The team that makes the most plays is going to win the series.”
The winner advances to the regional quarterfinals, a round Stephenville reached for the first time last season, to face Mineral Wells or Vernon.
“I don’t have to say much to the girls to get them up for the playoffs. Thankfully, we’ve worked hard for years now and getting to the playoffs is nothing new anymore, and hopefully even winning in the playoffs doesn’t feel as new,” Mayes said. “But playoffs or not, any time its Stephenville against Brownwood, and it doesn’t matter what sport, the kids are going to be up for it.
“The girls are excited and ready to put it all out there,” he added. “However it shakes out, there will be one really good team moving on and one really good team going home.”