EARLY — The No. 9 Early Lady Horns are making their 10th consecutive playoff appearance, but looking for their first postseason victory since 2003 when they tangle with the Junction Lady Eagles at 7 p.m. in Fredericksburg in the area round of the UIL Class 2A state softball playoffs.

The Lady Horns (24-5), champions of District 6-2A, recorded their last playoff victory after a first-round bye when Early won the District 6-3A championship. Since 2003, the Lady Horns have suffered four first-round exits.

“Winning district was big for them,” said Lady Horns head coach Bryan Waller. “They knew they had a first-round bye and wouldn’t have to play that game, which felt almost like a curse. They’re ready for a new start. This team is confident and they believe in each other.”

The Lady Horns, who spent most of the season ranked in the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s Class Top 10, climbed to the No. 9 spot in the most recent poll after tumbling to No. 22 in the previous rankings. Early has won seven of its last eight games heading into the playoffs, including a 6-3 warm-up win over No. 13 Brock last Friday.

Junction (21-7), the third seed from District 8-2A, has split its last six decisions, but defeated Brady, 8-2, in the bi-district round of the playoffs.

“Junction is a senior laden team that’s been to the playoffs before,” Waller said. “They’re well-coached, they hit the ball hard and try to get the long ball if they can. They’re also a team that’s based on momentum. If they get going they’re going to be tough, but if we can make things difficult for them, we should have a good chance.”

Early and Junction are playing a traditional — and increasingly rare — one game playoff, and though Waller and the Lady Horns would have preferred a best-of-three series, the team is not concerned.

“We would have liked to have had a two-of-three series because of our depth and our ability to make adjustments, but with the way the girls are playing right now, one game is not a factor in their heads,” Waller said “We know we have to win anyway, that’s the bottom line. The girls are holding strong to their refuse to lose attitude and they’re ready to go.”

Friday’s winner will move on to face either District 5-2A runner-up Hawley or District 8-2A champion Sonora in the Region I-2A quarterfinal round next week.