Yoakum softball team continues dynasty

By John Hornberg - jhornberg@vicad.com
April 22, 2010 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated April 21, 2010 at 11:22 p.m.

The Yoakum Lady Bulldogs have once again proven their talent this season and will play in the area finals after a first-round bye.

The Yoakum Lady Bulldogs have once again proven their talent this season and will play in the area finals after a first-round bye.

YOAKUM - The tournament in San Marcos was the tipping point.

The Yoakum Lady Bulldogs, long a perennial power in softball, struggled from start to finish in San Marcos, losing their last two games of the tournament to two TAPPS teams, and ones coach Scott Mann felt were worse than them. A week before at a tournament in Seguin, the Lady Bulldogs struggled, too.

He held a team meeting. The district season was fast approaching, and he reminded the players of the team's history of success.

"Do you want to be the first class that comes in, and because you don't want to get over the mental mistakes, that cost the team that goal?" he asked them at that meeting.

The meeting had an effect on the team, and on senior third baseman Alayna Henkes.

"At that point, for me, it really hit me that we were going to have to step it up and start playing like we know we can play," she said. "From that point on we did."

It did the trick. The attitude at practice and in games changed, and the Lady Bulldogs started stringing wins together just in time for the district season.

The girls answered their coach on the field, winning 12 straight to close out the season, laying waste to an improved District 28-3A and earning a first-round bye in the playoffs. They will play a warm up game against La Vernia, who will be entering the Lady Bulldogs' district next season and is one of the top Class-3A teams in the state.

The rough start brought out several doubters, though. The Yoakum softball team had made the playoffs 15 of the last 16 seasons, including winning three straight district titles. Many other coaches, Mann said, thought they wouldn't be able to repeat. The Lady Bulldogs had graduated nine seniors, and with six of them starters. Many of their players were new to the starting lineup.

"We kind of had to regroup from last year because we lost a lot of players," said senior Dalena Hagan. "It was a little rocky in the beginning, but that was just us coming together and working hard. We finally got the hang of it, our chemistry was good, and it all just kind of developed."

Mann said that the team came into its district season with a bull's eye on its back. The team, though, tuned out the naysayers.

"We didn't really listen to what they had to say, because we knew we could do it. We just tuned it out," said senior Sarah Kusac.

That doesn't mean it wasn't lost on them.

"I'm really excited to prove to everyone that we are going to do well," Henkes said. "Some people have said in the past that we have all the potential in the world, but when it counts we make errors, or we do this or whatever. But I have complete confidence in our team that we will pull ourselves out of anything we put ourselves into."

A major part of the struggles early on was the team's defense. Mann said the team committed 55 errors this season, but a majority of them were from the first half of the season before the district games began.

"I guess you can say we had our fair share of errors," said senior pitcher Alicia Fikac. "There were other teams, other coaches and people around town who were kind of doubtful of how we would do this season."

Mann said part of the problem was a lack of communication on the field. Last season's team had several loud players, and it helped communication.

"We had kids at the beginning that were timid and shy and weren't outspoken," Mann said. "That was one of the things we talked about, even if its the wrong thing, they have to be talking and have fun."

Senior Michelle Frerich said the team went back to fundamentals in practice, improving their fielding work.

"We've been working on hard ground balls and different situations," she said.

A big difference from this year to last has been the team chemistry. Many players said last year's players would separate into clicks, partially because the varsity squad was pushing 20 players.

This year's team is smaller and closer. They meet for lunch together as a team on game days, and there hasn't been an argument all season, several player said.

"We clashed last year, there were a lot of arguments," Hagan said. "Not anything to do with softball, just stuff from school."

Added senior Ashley Gunlock: "There's a lot more unity this year. We all get along better on and off the field."

Mann, who is in his second season as Yoakum's coach, said he reminded the team at the start of the year that the Lady Bulldogs were going to have to play as a team this year.

Part of the lack of chemistry was that he was new last year, Mann said, and their wasn't a player-coach relationship in place yet.

"Last year, we got by a lot of games on sheer talent and atheticism," he said. "I told them this year we are going to have that team unity."

Fikac, who became the Lady Bulldogs' main pitcher this season after spending last season as the second pitcher, said she had to start off fresh because she didn't get a lot of experience last year on the mound. Mann said she also missed her sophomore season because of an injury.

"It was kind of nerve wracking, you know, in my first varsity game and my first district game pitching, because a lot of the heat was on me," she said. "I definitely got my confidence, and I know that my team is behind me."

The first round bye presents a whole new set of challenges for the Lady Bulldogs. Last year's team didn't fair too well with its time off, Mann said, because their momentum was broken by losing its warm up games and long stretches of time off.

Giddings, the team's first opponent last year, caught Yoakum off guard, Mann said.

"We scheduled three tough ones, and then the swine flu hit and we were off another week, and then we played," he said. "It was three weeks of games that matter, but don't really matter, and then we had a lot of stuff to do, rearrange people because of injuries and stuff like that, and the playoff game. Things that normally don't arise."

The focus for Yoakum is on La Vernia and to the first playoff game. The bye will give the team a chance to keep working on its defense and fundamentals, Frerich said.

"We'll really get everything perfect before we go and perform in our first game," she said. "Our first game will be the most important, it's probably going to be one of our toughest. They say once we get past those first two rounds, it shouldn't be that bad, but that's the hardest part."

Of the team's six seniors, Fikac is the only one who is being recruited to play softball at the next level. The senior pitcher is being looked at by a number of schools, and has verbally committed to attend Mary Hardin Baylor. That doesn't necessarily mean the team is breaking up. Four of the six seniors will be at Texas A&M next year.



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