By TONY EIERDAM
Throw out the records and everybody starts at 0-0 as the District 6-3A softball and baseball seasons begin today when the Mineral Wells Lady Rams softball team and Rams baseball squad travel to River Oaks to face Castleberry at the Castleberry Baseball and Softball Complex at Camp Carter.
The Lady Rams and Lady Lions will square off at 7 p.m., while the Rams and Lions will have their first pitch at 7:30 p.m.
Both MWHS head coaches – the Lady Rams’ David Tarver and the Rams’ Bret Barrick – have pegged Kennedale as the favorites to win district.
The Kennedale baseball team is currently ranked No. 9 in the state (Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association), while the Lady Kats softball team is ranked No. 10 (Texas Girls Coaches Association).
“I would say Kennedale is the district favorite, with us Springtown and Castleberry fighting for the other two spots,” Tarver said. “Diamond Hill and Lake Worth may be a little down this year.
“Now that doesn’t mean we can’t win district or that Springtown and Castleberry can’t, but if you are asking me as of today who I thought would win district I would say Kennedale.
“But I also feel we will get better as the season progresses, and we plan on giving Kennedale two great games. But really our focus is on (today).
“We are playing a playoff-caliber team, and you always like winning that first district game.”
Barrick feels the district will be more competitive than last year.
“Kennedale is definitely the favorite in district but I think us and Springtown are close and the rest of the district are made up of teams that can beat you on any given day,” Barrick said. “It is pretty even after Kennedale, and I think we have a great opportunity to challenge them for the district championship.
“We have a lot of guys that play different positions and we can mix up our line up pretty well to attack some of our opponents strengths which makes us hard to scout and prepare for depending on who is where in our line up. So we should be pretty tough in district.”
More than likely, the Lady Rams will have freshman starting pitcher Kelsey Keeton in the circle to face Castleberry. Keeton has pitched like a veteran, and she is the hardest throwing of the three MWHS pitchers.
The question mark coming into the contest is the health of Allie Stephens, a versatile player who pitches and plays first and third base. When Keeton is pitching the Lady Rams trot out their best defensive lineup as Hope Patterson would play third base and Stephens would be at first base.
This lineup also allows starter Makayla Nance to play her regular position in center field, as opposed to first base or even shortstop as she has as times this season.
“Definitely, our best defensive lineup is when Kelsey pitches and Hope is at third and Allie at first,” Tarver said. “But it doesn’t matter that much as we have versatile players who have played multiple positions already this year.
“If we throw strikes and hit the ball the way we are capable we can win the game.”
The Lady Rams have shown a potent batting lineup, led by Reagan Patterson’s six home runs. Keeton also bats high in the lineup, and the Lady Rams sport the best lead-off hitter in the district in all-state junior shortstop Bethany Allen. Hope Patterson, last year’s home run leader, is also a threat to hit it out at every at bat, and there really is not a weak spot from top to bottom in the Lady Rams’ batting order.
The Rams will throw all-state lefty Matt “Moose” Tincher against the Lions.
Tincher has already thrown a one-hitter this year, and in the same game struck out 12 batters. He is a threat to throw a no-hitter each time his number is called.
But the question for the Rams entering district play is who will be the No. 2 pitcher.
Junior Chris Rapp has shown promise and struck out eight batters in a recent game, and freshman Braxton Allen had a 10-strikeout outing earlier in non-district play.
Despite the success of Rapp and Allen, and senior Aaron Wheeler, senior Brandon Martinez appears to be the hurler Barrick has chosen to be the second starter.
“Matt is our No. 1 pitcher and will be a tough guy to beat,” Barrick said. “Our No. 2 will probably be Brandon Martinez.
“He has a good fastball and throws a split-finger fastball that falls off the table. We will also use Chris Rapp and Aaron Wheeler a lot in relief and spot starts to set up our starters with who we want to pitch what games.
“Right now our team strength is pitching and our hitting and defense are getting better everyday. We have hit the ball well lately and our defense is improving everyday as we get comfortable with our combinations.”
By TONY EIERDAM
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