By JUSTIN RAINS
It’s been relatively easy-going so far in the state softball playoffs for the Grapeland softball team.
The Sandiettes have lost only once so far in the playoffs, and that came thanks a forfeit in the area round against Avery, when Grapeland decided not to play rather than play without missing members at the state golf tournament.
So, what has been the key to this year’s success in the eyes of first-year coach Jim Dillard?
“I think a lot of it has been finally getting the girls all together at the same time,” Dillard said. “I’ve had numerous girls at numerous activities. Sometimes we’ve had five or eight girls at practice. As you get later on those activities decrease. Right now, they’re all at softball practice.”
That success will be put to the test once again beginning Friday, when the Sandiettes take on Joaquin in the regional semifinals. Game 1 is set for 5 p.m. Friday at Cushing High School, with Game 2 to follow. Game 3, if necessary, would be Saturday.
Dillard also said he thinks his team is peaking now, just at the right time.
That’s certainly true for senior first baseman Shelby Bruner, who has added some major pop to the middle of Grapeland’s base hit-oriented offense.
Bruner has hit a home run in all three series the Sandiettes have played in this postseason, and that kind of consistency in the middle of the lineup is big for Grapeland’s offensive production.
“We’re kind of counting on her to come up, and not hit a home run everytime, but give us hits when we need it,” Dillard said. “(Junior Shelby) Frauenberger is someone we’ve counted on as well. No doubt, Shelby Bruner has played a huge role in that. It’s a special feeling when one of your kids gets going like this.”
They’ve also ridden the hot arm of sophomore pitcher Baylee Lumbreraz.
A year after not getting much postseason action for Grapeland as the No. 2 pitcher behind Jalla Johnson, Lumbreraz has embraced her role as the ace of this year’s Grapeland staff.
She’s tallied double-digit strikeouts in each of the team’s last two series, and Dillard said he loves the way she has embraced becoming Grapeland’s “go-to” pitcher during the playoff run.
“We’ve put a lot on Baylee’s shoulders and she’s taken care of business,” he said. “All those games that she’s gotten this year, that’s built her up and given her the experience she needs.”
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org