by JASON GORDON
When you play in a softball district that’s arguably one of the best in Texas, and in fact one 27-4A team goes on to win state, the 100-degree days of summer will be closing fast upon us before the All-District team is officially released.
That’s the case with Hays and Lehman’s softball teams this season, as the two squads had to wait, and wait, and wait for Smithson Valley to get knocked out of the playoffs before learning who was named All-District.
Smithson Valley never was beaten in the postseason, going on to win its third state title since 2001.
Making its case as the most competitive Class 4A district in the state, Hays High and Lockhart both made the regional quarterfinals, and Smithson Valley and Canyon met in the Class 4A Region IV finals to see who would advance to the state tournament at UT-Austin’s McCombs Field. Smithson Valley ultimately pulled out a dramatic 9-inning win over the Cougarettes, and went on to defeat Montgomery 9-8 a few days later to win the gold medals and large UIL trophy as fruits of their state title labor.
This also, of course, meant qualifying for the All-District team was an awfully impressive individual feat.
Canyon’s speedy senior leadoff hitter Brittany Gomez was named the district’s Most Valuable Player. Smithson Valley freshman pitcher Regan Mergele was named Newcomer of the Year.
Hays High, which made team history with its deep playoff run, had two players named to the first team.
Sophomore leadoff hitter and shortstop Maddy Shannon was a unanimous first-team selection.
Shannon hit .413 this season, led the team with 33 runs, had 10 doubles, 10 stolen bases and struck out only five times at the plate all season long.
“Maddy is a great, disciplined hitter,” said Hays head coach Aaron Fuller. “She always is patient enough to get her pitch and she always puts a good swing on the ball. The team went as Maddy went. If she got off to a good start and got on base we scored runs and did well.”
Fuller was also impressed with the way Shannon turned into a team leader during her sophomore year.
“She grew up a lot from her freshman year,” Fuller said. “Last year, she just played and didn’t say a lot. This year she wasn’t afraid to speak and was a leader. She’ll definitely be one of our core girls that leads this team however far we’re going to go in the future.”
Hays’ other first-team selection was junior centerfielder Hannah Ramsey.
Ramsey batted .408, had four doubles, two triples and one home run, which came in the Lady Rebs opening-round playoff win over San Antonio-Harlandale at Texas State University in San Marcos. She also had a team-leading 28 runs batted in, and scored 20 runs.
Another key to Ramsey’s game was her defensive prowess, as she threw out three runners attempting to score from her outfield position. Two of those came in the playoffs.
“Most of the opposing coaches we played this year knew about Hannah’s arm and wouldn’t even let their players test her,” Fuller said. “I think the coaches we faced in the playoffs didn’t know about her.”
Fuller said he never needed to do anything to get Ramsey in competition mode.
“Hannah is one of those players every coach wishes they had several of,” he said. “She swings the bat and hits the ball harder than anyone on our team. On and off the field she gives her all and she makes sure she’s doing things the right way and is setting an example. She’s not afraid to tell a teammate when they need to work at something or do something better, and she’s always there to give them a pat on the back when they succeed. Hannah will be one of our key senior leaders next year as a four-year varsity starter.”
Making the second-team for Hays were freshman second baseman Haleigh Madden, junior right fielder Brayden Pinckard and sophomore pitcher Sarah Leal.
Madden batted .382 with 10 doubles, 19 runs scored and 17 runs batted in.
“Coming in as a freshman, I was pleasantly surprised with Haleigh’s offense and her defense,” Fuller said. “I wasn’t expecting her to perform like that right away. She is very poised, and loves the pressure of competition and doesn’t back down.”
Pinckard batted .381, and had a .619 slugging percentage because of her great ability to hit for extra bases. She had eight doubles, six triples and one home run along with 26 runs batted in and 21 runs scored.
“Brayden started for us in right field during her sophomore season but didn’t bat,” Fuller said. “She worked hard in the offseason and not only turned herself into a hitter, but one of our middle of the lineup batters. She hit with power, hit into the gaps and really produced a lot of runs for us. We were so impressed with the tremendous strides she made.”
Leal struck out 92 batters on the season and finished with an 11-11 overall record, pitching 12 games in the ultra-difficult District 27-4A.
She started the season on JV, but finished the year with a flourish on varsity.
She beat regional power Lockhart 1-0 in the regular season, held San Antonio-Harlandale to just two runs in the first round of the playoffs, and beat defending Class 4A Region IV champs Dripping Springs 5-4 and 1-0 to help lead the Lady Rebs to the area-round win in the playoffs.
She even beat state power Canyon 5-3 in game two of their best-of-three regional-quarterfinal series before the Cougarettes easily won game three to end Hays’ magical run.
“Her stats don’t reflect just how good Sarah Leal was for us,” Fuller said. “Six of her losses came to teams that met in the regional finals, and one of those teams went on to win state. She’s only going to get better and better. She’ll be one of the top pitchers in Central Texas, no doubt about it. She has tremendous work ethic and a desire to win and be the best.”
In addition Hays senior McKinna Kinsey, a University of North Texas signee who hit .423 and stole nine bases despite missing 12 games due to injury, first-base defensive standout and senior leader Kelsea Sadler, junior third baseman Gabi Albarez, who led the team with three home runs, and junior utility player Clarissa Gonzalez, who hit .369 with 11 doubles and 18 runs batted in, were all named honorable mention.
“We expect to have a chance to be as good as this year’s team or even better next year,” Fuller said. “If our underclassmen continue to improve and work hard, and our new varsity players next season perform like I think they will, they sky’s the limit.”
Lehman High was represented on the All-District team by star shortstop Cydney Ervin, who batted .410 and scored 25 runs while stealing 22 bases.
Ervin, a four-year starter who will continue her softball career at St. Edward’s University in Austin, was named All-District for the third straight season. She was also a two-time All-District performer in basketball and qualified for regionals in track and field four consecutive seasons.
“There’s no doubt this was one of the toughest districts in the state, so this was quite an honor,” Ervin said. “There were so many great players at shortstop this year, I really wasn’t expecting it. It’s a great surprise and honor.”
Ervin recently finished playing in the Senior All-Star game at Westlake High School, alongside Kinsey and Julia Montoya from Hays.
“I’m really proud of what I accomplished in high school,” Ervin said. “I feel like Lehman made a lot of progress in athletics while I was here. So many programs are playing well now, and that makes me want to come back and watch the girls and boys play in the future. I’m expecting them to accomplish a lot more in the years to come.”
Ervin also paid tribute to her head coach, Nicole Herrera, who announced 2012 would be her last season leading the Lehman softball program.
“I dedicated the season to Coach Herrera, so I’m glad to end it on a good note,” Ervin said. “I’m looking forward to continuing my softball career at the next level. Coach Herrera is a St. Edward’s alum so that’s another reason I’m excited to be going there.”
Lehman senior pitcher Ashley Hildebrand, junior third baseman Julianna Hernandez and junior second baseman Jessica Gonzalez were also named honorable mention.