Like the Brock Lady Eagles (33-6), the Emory Rains Lady Wildcats (32-1) reached the UIL State Softball Tournament in 2018, albeit in Class 4A.
There, the team fell to the Vernon Lady Lions, 6-2 in 11 innings in the state semifinals.
That loss to Vernon has seemingly helped fuel Rains’ success in 2019, Brock Head Softball Coach Ryan Starnes said.
“Talking to others about Rains, they seem to be on a mission,” Starnes said.
After dropping from Class 4A to 3A with the UIL’s most recent realignment, Rains now finds itself back in contention for a state championship one year later.
Brock is certainly familiar with vying for a state title, having recently clinched its fourth-consecutive state tournament berth after rallying from a 1-0 regional final series deficit versus the Bushland Lady Falcons.
While they have fallen in the state semifinals in each of the last three years, the Lady Eagles find themselves with a rare opportunity to change that narrative for a fourth-straight season.
The Lady Wildcats stand as the second-straight opponent Brock has faced this postseason which dropped from 4A to 3A, with Bushland also having made the switch.
The transition has proven a productive one for the Lady Wildcats, who enter today’s matchup with the Lady Eagles riding a 21-game win streak (the team’s only loss came on March 2 to Dripping Springs, 1-0).
That is not to say playing a school from a previously larger classification presents an immediate disadvantage for the Lady Eagles.
Bushland was formerly in 4A, and it fumbled away a 1-0 series lead versus Brock, committing a combined 17 errors in the teams’ three games.
That being said, Starnes stressed that the Lady Wildcats will simply not beat themselves.
“They are aggressive on the bases and are going to play great defense,” Starnes said.
“Their pitcher is going to move the ball around with a good changeup and we are going to have to be disciplined. From what other coaches have said, [the Lady Wildcats] are going to leave early when they look to steal, and we are going to have to be ready for that. We hope this is something the umpires call, but if they don’t, we are going to have to play through it. They are going to bunt in any situation and dare us to come up and make plays.
“This is something we have talked with our kids about and we are preparing for.”
Rains’ offensive numbers do not jump off the page like Bushland’s, as the Lady Wildcats are averaging 10 runs per game this postseason (putting up double-digit scores only three times), compared to an average of 17 runs by the Lady Falcons.
Instead, the team’s defensive play has proven a more pronounced strength, holding postseason opponents to an average of two runs per game (an eight-game span).
Only Bonham has scored more than two runs against the Lady Wildcats during the latter’s 2019 playoff run, with the former losing, 10-6 in game two of the teams’ area series.
Brock’s own defensive numbers have proven similar, with the team holding postseason opponents to an average of three runs per game (an 11-game span).
That number gains added meaning when considering each of the Lady Eagles’ playoff games this year has largely equated to a track meet, with opponents having to constantly produce at the plate simply to keep up with the former’s high-powered offense (the lone exception being the team’s 7-4 loss to Bushland).
In this regard, Brock holds the edge over Rains, having averaged 13 runs per game (playoffs only), with the team putting up double-digit scores in eight of those contests.
A substantial early deficit could force Rains into a position it has largely not found itself in this season.
The Lady Eagles and Lady Falcons play their Class 3A state semifinals game at 6 p.m. Wednesday at McCombs Field in Austin.
For information on ticket sales, parking, prohibited items and more, visit https://www.uiltexas.org/softball/state/softball-state-tournament-spectator-information.