There have been plenty of opportunities over the first month of the season for the Lady Yellow Jackets to see where they stand. A sneak peek in district has them tied for first place.
But if Denison is going to stay there, or at least earn a playoff spot, the evaluation of the good and bad from non-district action will need to turn into more wins as Denison (6-10-2) gets into the full swing of District 5-5A softball action by hosting Wichita Falls Rider at 6:30 p.m. on Friday after having the bye tonight.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” Lady Jackets head coach Mike Garcia said. “The experiment is basically over. I wanted to get these young players up to speed.”
Denison opened district play last Tuesday with a 5-1 victory against Wichita Falls. Jaci Garvin had an inside-the-park-home run, Kayla Daugherty doubled and drove in a run, Elizabeth Linwood doubled and scored, Yvette Moreno drove in a run and Jaydan Hunt allowed three hits, a walk, an unearned run and struck out three.
Then the Lady Jackets went to the McKinney Tournament to close out non-district play. It was a mixed result as Denison lost three times, picked up a victory over Greenville and ended with a tie against McKinney North. All five opponents scored at least seven runs.
Denison is averaging five runs per game, hitting .314 as a team and has five Lady Jackets in the lineup hitting .340 or better.
“The last tournament we started putting things together — changing the lineup a bit, changing the order a bit,” Garcia said.
Linwood, a freshman, leads the way with a .449 average while Daugherty is next at .372. Hunt is batting .368 with six doubles, two homers and a team-high 14 RBI, another freshman — Garvin — sports a .356 average and Kaylee Walters is sitting on a .340 average with a team-best four home runs.
In fact, the eight Denison players with the most at-bats are all hitting better than .300 and seven of them get on base one third of the time despite dealing with injuries on a weekly basis.
“The good thing about it is we don’t play till Friday so all the girls should be able to recover,” Garcia said.
Garvin has settled in at catcher and Linwood has taken over the starting spot in left field.
“They’re real comfortable now. They’ve been big contributors this season,” Garcia said. “They were big in the first district game.”
Junior Yvette Moreno has also come on strong the second half of non-district play as a starter in either center or right field depending on the pitcher.
The area the Lady Jackets need to improve is in the field. Denison has allowed 52 unearned runs — one every other inning — as the team is averaging three errors per game. Hunt and Hailey Jaresh have combined on the 93.2 innings with Hunt throwing 55 of them.
“I’m pretty confident that’s going to go down and the last couple of games it did go down,” Garcia said. “We had a lot of kids coming up from JV, put in pressure situations for the first time. There’s not going to be a deer-in-the-headlights feel anymore.”
Turning potential hits into potential outs has been something Denison has been working on since the season-opener. The Lady Jackets have been shifting players around the infield and outfield to find the right combination. With only district games the rest of the way, the combination needs to work to put the team in the top half of the standings.
Two years ago Denison went into the final week of the season with a chance to extend the year. Last season was a different story. The Lady Jackets went 8-18 overall, 2-12 in district play and it was a frustrating finish. Denison already has one district victory and nearly as many wins compared to 2016.
“We played in so many close games later year. We just couldn’t get over the hump,” Garcia. “We have a couple of four-year players, three-year players that have experience to lead us.”
On the first night of 5-5A play, Sherman run-ruled Wichita Falls Rider and Denton Ryan no-hit Denton while brand-new program Denton Braswell had the bye. There is not a single team out of the seven that made the playoffs last season, so everyone is eager to claim one of the four spots in a district that could be unknown for at least the first half of the schedule.
“It’s wide open but I think it’s a three-team race between Ryan, Sherman and us,” Garcia said. “This week will give us a tell of who is going to be a contender.”