Filling the Void: Top-ranked Lovejoy looking to stay busy prior to playoffs
The Lovejoy softball team completed the regular season Friday with a 6-2 victory over Nevada Community.
Yet the Lady Leopards won't begin the postseason until at least May 3.
Staring at a potential three-week break, this is one of the few times a coach is happy for unpredictable spring weather as prior cancellations have left Lovejoy with up to five more games it can schedule before the postseason begins.
"I usually leave a couple spots open for after the regular season," said Amanda Douglas, Lovejoy head coach, "but now with all the cancellations earlier in the season we have quite a few games to burn. Which is good because otherwise we wouldn't get to play anyone for two and a half weeks."
While a packed pre-playoff schedule will keep Lovejoy busy, the Lady Leopards may still have a moment to reflect on what has already been a banner season.
Particularly on the district front.
Lovejoy won its fourth consecutive district title this season, but for the first time in program history that championship wasn't shared with Princeton.
"This is our first outright district title, so that is definitely exciting," Douglas said. "We challenged the girls to come out and make history; they set this as one of their goals and it was good to see them achieve it."
Juniors Sammi Curry and Brittany Lewis, both starters since they were freshmen, led the sticks in 11-3A. Lovejoy went 10-0 in district, scoring at least 10 runs six times and winning each game by at least four runs.
"Our offense has looked really good," Douglas said. "We usually hit well, but even when we don't, we have done a good job of moving runners over. And it hasn't just been one person; No. 1-9, really No. 1-11, have been contributing for us."
Douglas has been similarly pleased with the defense and pitching.
"It's really been a good mix across the board," she said.
Patrolling the circle again is Lewis. She has been joined by Danielle Brochu, a freshman who has shown why she is already committed to Texas Tech.
"I think Danielle came in not really knowing what to expect," Douglas said. "She has calmed down as the season has gone on though. She has really good speed and a great competitive fire; it's a good balance with Brittany, who has more of that calming effect."
Balancing new and older players has been key for a Lovejoy squad that has two seniors (Annie Frye and Brooke Puckett) and four freshmen (Brochu, Amanda Conner, Stephanie Cunningham and Katie Curry). Look no further than Puckett and Conner for proof of that as the former moved to the outfield to allow the latter to take over first base.
"Sometimes the younger players [get nervous] late in the game," Douglas said, "so the veterans are there to lead by example and let them know to stay calm and have faith."
If the Lady Leopards don't heed that message from Douglas, they might from Jim Bob Puckett. The Lovejoy ISD athletic director and Brooke's father has been serving as the team's assistant this season.
Puckett has gotten a firsthand view as his daughter and her teammates have ascended to and spent most of the season as the No. 1 Class 3A team in the state.
"We try not to look at the rankings too much," Douglas said. "It's exciting for the girls and their families, but it also puts a target on our backs, so we look at it from the prospective of wanting to go out and prove ourselves in every game.
"The only time we care about being No. 1 is when they give out the gold medals."
Lovejoy has gotten progressively closer to that goal, advancing to the regional semifinals in 2010 and regional finals in 2011, with both runs ended by Celina.
"We have been watching Celina this season, but we do that with any possible playoff contenders," Douglas said. "We look at the records and stats so we can be prepared for the teams we might have to face."
Lovejoy gets a playoff primer the next two weekends.
The Lady Leopards are on the road at 4 p.m. Saturday against Ennis, 4A's No. 1 ranked team, and host a doubleheader April 28 at 2 and 4 p.m. against Burkburnett.
"We want to play good, solid defense in those games because we haven't had a lot of games of late where opponents' offenses really challenged our defense," Douglas said. "We want to challenge our offense as well, put them against some good pitching and build confidence before the playoffs."
Since first making the playoffs, Lovejoy has advanced progressively further each year.
"You always want to go further and this year that would mean state," Douglas said. "Of course we want to go to state, all teams set that as a goal, but right now it's all about the next game. You can't say state, state, state when the playoffs haven't even started."