MELISSA — Melissa’s 22-6 Lady Cardinals, the fourth playoff seed from District 11-4A, have a big task in the first round of post-season play: Finding a way to beat a team on a 12-game win streak, a team that’s beaten its opponents by an average score of 18-1 since that streak began. That team is the 23-1-1 Crandall Lady Pirates of District 12-4A, down Kaufman County way, and they’re rolling like a Peterbilt down Pikes Peak.
“They’re definitely a good team,” Melissa head coach Eric Rodgers said. “They’re a Top 5 team in the state — and they were pretty stinking good last year too. There’s a reason they’re going to be district champs over there. They’re definitely somebody that we have to take very seriously. We’re going to have to play some of our best softball to beat them.” Rodgers adds, “However, I think our district has prepared us for, really, just about anybody. I think our district is one of the toughest in the region, if not in the state in (Class) 4A. And I’m not ashamed of those four losses that we got in district. The four losses are to the three teams above us and they all finished one game ahead of us.”
The Lady Pirates’ one loss — 4-3, to Class 5A North Forney — came two months ago. Henderson tied them, 7-7, on Feb. 25. Everything else has been Ws. Crandall’s last close game was an 8-7 squeaker over Caddo Mills in the district-opener. The Lady Pirates wiped out Terrell, 27-0, on April 7 en route to three straight shutouts.
Head coach Teri Grodi is in her year third year at Crandall’s helm.
“We use every girl on our team,” she said. “We’ve got 12 players this year and every player has a role. This team has done a really good job of working as a team and knowing their role. It’s been fun so far. … We’ve scored a lot of runs and we’ve got a lot of RBI-producers. It’s not so much that it’s a big-hitting lineup. We like to play the small-ball game and use every aspect of the game of softball that you can, offensively. … Our hitters are bunters in some situations, and that’s the awesome thing about it. I’m not afraid to bunt our biggest hitters and our biggest hitters aren’t afraid to do the job that’s being asked of them.”
The Lady Pirates use three pitchers: Anna Williams, Rose Meshell and Chloe Pryor.
“We’ve just been pitching by staff, I guess you could say,” Grodi said. “Some games two of them have gone in and we have games where all three have gone in. It just really depends on the situation. They have done a good job of backing each other up.”
Crandall advanced to the second round of the playoffs last year, falling to eventual state-finalist Paris North Lamar.
Melissa will counter with a solid-hitting lineup, including sophomores Alexis Pevehouse and Audrey Solomon. Solomon’s 11 home runs lead the team and her .469 batting average is second only to Pevehouse’s .512. Solomon is also tops in RBIs (45) and doubles (11). Dangerous at the plate as well for Melissa are sophomore Kylee Brakebill, hitting at .415, freshman Savannah Rodriguez, with a .387, and sophomore Anna Fortenberry, at .361.
Some more numbers: The Lady Cards’ top RBI-producers are Pevehouse (33), Becca Pittman (24), Brakebill (18) and Macy Stewart (17). Melissa fielders with the best ratings, among those with over 60 chances, are catcher Brakebill (.990), first baseman Pittman (.946), pitcher Pevehouse (.934) and second baseman Rodriguez (.915).
On the mound, Pevehouse has impressed. With a record of 17-6-1, her ERA is 2.01 with 132 innings pitched. She’s struck out 178 batters and walked 39, allowing no doubles or triples, with two home runs. Rodgers points to her strike-out total as most impressive.
“That’s by far the most we’ve ever had here at Melissa by a pitcher throughout a season,” Rodgers said. “That is no knock on anybody before her. She’s just a very good pitcher. And her being able to use the different pitches that she has, the batters have a harder time really squaring off on a lot of her pitches. And the defense has done a great job behind her this year for the most part.”
So the stage is set: Mighty Crandall versus plenty-tough Melissa. Rodgers said to win, certain things are key for the Lady Cards.
“Obviously, our pitching and our defense have to be there. But our offense has got to step up. We left too many people on base (versus Princeton in the district finale). But we were still getting hits from everyone throughout the lineup. It wasn’t just the first three. We ended the game with the middle of the lineup winning it for us. We had 13 hits. Those all came from somewhere.”
One thing to watch, Lady Cardinal fans: The magic number of runs most all season long for Melissa is four.
“More often than not,” Rodgers noted, “if can get four we’ve got a great chance of winning.”