Moving down to Class 2A certainly was not a guarantee that Pilot Point’s talent-rich softball team would make its second state tournament appearance.
But the move from Class 3A surely didn’t hurt. That, coupled with the fact that the Lady Cats were one of the top 3A teams in the area last season and have one of the best pitchers in the state trying to end her high school career on a high note, makes it seem like Pilot Point is exactly where it should be heading into today’s 2A state semifinal at Austin’s Red & Charline McCombs Field.
“I knew this was going to be a really good year,” said senior pitcher Skylar Cagle, a four-year starter and Northwestern State signee. “I knew going down to 2A would help, but I knew there would still be good teams. This team has just been together for a long time. We’ve played together since we were very young. We’re all very close.”
The Lady Cats (38-2-1) are in the state tournament for the first time since 2005, when they were in Class 3A, and for the first time under head coach James Ramsey, who took over prior to the 2007 season. In 2005, Pilot Point fell in the state semifinals, but beginning with today’s game against Garrison (23-9), the Lady Cats hope for different results on their second trip to the state tournament.
“I think we’re ready for this,” said second baseman Lori Campbell, one of five seniors on the squad, all of whom are starters. “I’ve got a really good feeling about it. We’ve been working really hard.
“We just need to stay humble and stay hungry. We can’t lose focus and get too excited. We’re going to have to work for it.”
With Pilot Point moving down from Class 3A this year and Garrison moving up from Class 1A as a state tournament qualifier in 2012, it would seem the Lady Cats would be a favorite to play in Thursday’s state championship game, but that likely is what defending 2A champion Crawford thought as well.
Garrison topped Crawford in a one-game playoff for the regional championship and punched its state tournament ticket for the second straight year — this time in a bigger classification.
Pilot Point won a one-game playoff in the area round against Ponder.
“Garrison was here as a 1A team last year and moved up and made it back again,” Ramsey said. “Down in Austin, there’s no series — it’s just one game. You definitely have to play well from start to finish.”
So far, that hasn’t been a problem for the Lady Cats, who not only have a one-game playoff win under their belts this year but also have gone unbeaten in series-opening games this postseason while not being forced to any decisive third games.
“It does add a little bit of pressure [to not be playing a best-of-three series], but at the same time, in a way, it’s good because every series we’ve played we’ve won the first game,” Cagle said. “We haven’t had any huge mistakes or letdowns.”
In one game, the softball team with the best pitcher has a decided advantage, and perhaps no one has a better pitcher than the Lady Cats have in Cagle.
Cagle fanned 22 Brock hitters and allowed just four hits in the Lady Cats’ two-game sweep in the regional finals, giving her 243 punchouts this year in just 162 innings. She’s 26-0 and sporting a 0.73 ERA in her final season at Pilot Point, and her teammates are well aware of the luxury she gives them from the circle.
“She’s just really good,” Campbell said. “It’s really comforting because I know she’ll do her job in the circle. If she happens to miss, which is rare, we’re there to back her up.”
Her coach took it one step further, calling Cagle “the best pitcher” he’s ever had, adding that a four-year starter with Cagle’s reputation can give a coach peace of mind in pressure situations.
“Obviously, pitching is important,” Ramsey said. “She’s done a great job keeping us in a lot of games and helping us win a lot of games. There’s other girls that have stepped up in a big way to help us down the stretch too. To win down in Austin, we’ll have to pitch well and hit the ball well too.
“We’ll have to do everything well. It makes you feel good, though, when you’ve got a pitcher like Skylar in the circle.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.
Class 2A Tournament
at Red & Charline McCombs Field
3 p.m. — Pilot Point (38-2-1) vs. Garrison (23-9)
6 p.m. — Kingsville Academy (38-4) vs. Hawley (31-7)
6 p.m. — semifinal winners