LH softball has outscored district opponents 65-1 over past five games
By Keith Sparks
After a 10-0 win over Salado on Tuesday, the Panther softball team is officially rolling. The win over Salado followed an 11-1 win over Lampasas, a 15-0 win over Burnet, a 12-0 win over Taylor, and a 17-0 win over Eastside Memorial. In the last five games, the Panthers have outscored their opponents 65-1.
Senior infielder Kinsey Kuhlmann, who was forced to miss most of her junior season with a back injury, said failing to win district last year and struggling a bit in the preseason has helped them “not take games for granted.”
“I know losing isn’t a good thing, but I think we had a harder preseason playing 5A and 6A schools, and losing some of those games has helped us not take games for granted,” Kuhlmann said. “It reminded us how much winning actually means. Knowing that we didn’t get district champs last year, I think that’s helping us to really push to be district champs, because it was upsetting that we didn’t get it last year.”
Senior center fielder Carissa Garza felt similarly, explaining that a difficult preseason reminded them how bad it feels to lose.
“I think that during preseason, we lost a couple games and figured out how it felt to lose, and that just made us want to win even more,” Garza said. “Losing like that kind of helped us figure out what we needed to fix and what we needed to do to become better. We took it as a learning opportunity to come into district knowing what we need to do and wanting to win to prove a point that we were going to do well in district.”
Early on in district play, the Panthers were winning, but not by nearly as much as they have over the last few weeks. Head Coach Kristen Brewer chalked their offensive struggles up to slower pitching, but they seem to have fixed those issues in practice by simulating different pitching styles with different coaches on the mound.
“We would do a lot of things in practice, like we started doing a drill that’s called the change-up drill,” Kuhlmann said. “We’d bounce a tennis ball to where we’d have to load and get set, then hold back a little bit, then go, and Coach Brewer, Coach Garza, and Coach Rodriguez would all take turns throwing to us, and they would treat it as a slower pitcher, which means we’d have to work on waiting and getting our timing down, so that really helped.”
In addition to mixing it up with drills, Garza said she and her teammates have begun to feed off each other. When one Panther gets a hit, it becomes contagious.
“I think it has a lot to do with our team chemistry and how we feed off of each other,” Garza said. “When one person starts hitting the ball, we all get hyped up and we feed off that. We definitely have been working on hitting more during practice. Brewer will pitch to us, and Garza and Rodriguez, and they each work on different speeds and different types of pitches. The drills we do in the cage are definitely helping us on the hitting side, too.”
As a senior-heavy team, both Kuhlmann and Garza said their fellow seniors want to go out on a high note, which has given them a renewed energy defensively that has led to giving up only one run in a five-game span. Last season was the first time in over a decade that the Panthers didn’t win a district championship, and that hasn’t sat well with the class of 2019.
“I know that some of the positions are seniors, including myself, and this is our last year, so we’re just trying to give it all we have,” Kuhlmann
said. “A lot of it is comfort. We all have trust within each other. I can’t tell you one person on the field that I have doubts about. We all play behind each other, we pick each other up. The pitchers know to just put it in there and let the defense work, and we just have fun and play ball.”
Garza said a lot of their defensive success can be attributed to trust: trust that your teammate is backing you up, trust that your pitcher makes the right decision, and trust that everybody in the field knows their role.
“Out in the field, we all trust each other, so there’s not one player out there we don’t trust,” Garza said. “It all starts with our pitching. We trust our pitchers, and they’ve also gotten better and more comfortable in the circle. I think we have seven seniors out there, and we’ve all played together for quite a while, so we just all know how our teammates play, and we all have that trust in each other.”
With only two district games left to play before playoffs begin, the Panthers couldn’t have picked a better time to get hot.