It took only one inning Saturday for Hays Rebel softball head coach Lisa Cone to discover the mettle of her young program.
With her team facing an 11-6 deficit against Pflugerville Hendrickson, Hays galvanized itself and outscored the Hawks 8-1 down the stretch to take a 14-12 come-from-behind victory.
Understandably, the win came during an early pre-district tournament that in the grand scheme of things won’t be a determining factor in the race for a playoff spot come April. But for Cone, the moment was a big step for a Rebel team that’s continuing to gel in 2020.
“I think that was good for us to have, all the positive spots going on and that shows me they’re starting to get to know each other a little better and trust each other,” Cone said.
Gaining cohesiveness is the goal for a Rebel team that returns only six total players from a year ago. Catcher Annaliese Rodriguez, infielders Emily Palacio and Alexis Cooks, as well as outfielders Megan Kelnar and Emma Morales are expected to be key leaders in 2020. Joining them will be seniors Abby Garcia and Carla Aleman who are also contributing to the cause, Cone said.
Anchoring them all will be sophomore pitcher Katie Noble who returns after obtaining significant playing time behind former ace Max Valdez. That experience bolstered Noble’s confidence in the circle, Cone said.
“She (Katie) learned a lot during her freshman year,” Cone said. “She will settle down into that starting role more and more.
But between it all is equally getting many of the younger players acclimated to the world of varsity softball. While Saturday’s win helped to soothe the nerves of younger players, Cone said there’s still a learning curve for them to master.
“They’re still nervous,” Cone said. “With their first few games playing varsity, they don’t know what to expect.”
Hays won’t have much time to shake those nerves as district play officially began Tuesday. While several teams, such as Austin High and Hays, are rebuilding, Cone said the 25-6A landscape remains as challenging as ever. Bowie is expected to become a frontrunner, as well as Westlake and Lake Travis with Lehman also posing as a possible dark horse in the district.
Even so, Saturday’s finish boosted morale for a Rebel squad that’s still gathering confidence at the plate. Hays’ 14-point outburst was spearheaded by a grand slam by Kelnar, which helped to break the game open.
Pairing a strong offense with adept defense will be keys for success, along with coming together as a program, Cone said.
“This group of girls seems to be very supportive of each other and very positive and I love that so far,” Cone said. “A big difference is that we seem to be really positive, so I think that will turn into huge things at the end of the season.”
Hays opened district play Tuesday against Anderson. The Rebels host Austin High March 10 in the team’s home opener.