This season, the Florence softball team is focusing on one thing — today.
As of today, the Lady Buffaloes are 6-3 in District 25-3A play following a 9-8 loss against Johnson City LBJ on Friday night at home.
But that was then, and since that game is in the past, they’re going to focus on today.
Walk up to the field at the back of Florence High School during softball practice, and music will be blasting. As you walk across the dirt bridge and up to the field, laughter and yelling carry over the latest hit song playing.
The only senior member of the team is first baseman Juana Robles, who left at 5 p.m. to go to work, and first-year coach Douglas Harrigan is in her place with a glove in his hand.
“You’re making me run, jump, stretch,” Harrigan yells as the girls are hitting the ball toward him.
He’s getting just as much of a workout as they are on the field.
“We have to get an out,” he instructs his team as they continue working on situational hitting.
A grounder is sent toward shortstop Brianna Ramirez.
Ramirez makes the routine catch and throws to first for the out. Harrigan runs, stretching out to make the catch, but he misses.
“If Juana was here, she would have made the play,” he yells out to call the end of practice, and the team laughs at his failed attempt.
Practices haven’t always run this way.
TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW
“At first, I was really tense because I put all this pressure on myself,” Harrigan said of coming to Florence to lead the softball team. “Knowing that they had started to build a tradition and stuff like that, I was excited.
“But on the other side of the coin, I thought, ‘What if you drop the ball?’ So, that’s pressure I put on myself.”
Florence made the playoffs the last four years under Brett Gola while claiming undefeated district championships in 2015 and 2016.
Harrigan never felt pressure from the administration, the girls or their parents, “But now that we’ve got into district, I’m much more relaxed.”
At the beginning of the season, the Lady Buffs’ practices ran quite differently. With previous coaching experience at a Class 6A school, Harrigan tried bringing big-school strategy to Florence.
Every practice was planned to an exact time schedule, but a young team with a new coach needed to find out what worked best for them.
Third baseman Hollie Ellis has played city league softball for years and found the change in coaching philosophy an easy transition.
It wasn’t so easy for others who had to adjust to Harrigan’s ways.
“We’ve connected a lot since he came,” Ramirez said.
Harrigan admits he learned this season has been all about adjustments.
“I think that’s what I’ve gotten better at this year,” he said. “I’m more able to make the adjustments, whether it’s practice or in a game.”
THE OLD TEAM
Florence’s overall record is 9-11-2. Early losses came during the tournament season, including going 0-4 at the Gatesville tournament at the beginning of March.
Ellis was the starting catcher at the beginning of the season before an injury caused her to miss two tournaments.
Upon returning, she was unable to go more than two innings behind the plate, leading to her transition to third base.
“I do miss it,” Ellis said, noting that last year as a freshman she stepped up when no one else wanted to catch. “Someone needed to step up. Everyone was kind of scared, so I stepped up.”
This year, another freshman stepped up behind the plate to catch when Ellis had to make the change.
Like Harrigan, the Lady Buffs started the season feeling the pressure “because we want to keep the tradition going,” Ramirez said.
The team started with one senior, who stepped away for personal reasons, before Robles joined after the basketball season concluded.
It has been a rough road for Florence, but with a young team that Harrigan needed to grow into their new leadership roles, he took a chance in tournaments stacked with 6A schools.
“We learned from those difficult situations, and now it’s starting to pay off,” Harrigan said.
Ask any of the Lady Buffs and they’ll tell you that the tournament season feels like a completely different season all together.
“It’s a relief,” Ramirez said, “because we look back and are like, ‘Yeah, we weren’t the best team.’
“Now, it’s going to be hard, but we’re a pretty good team, and we are going to be challenging for some teams that face us.”
The team chemistry has also grown.
Harrigan sees his team really coming together at the right time as the Lady Buffs look to finish their district run with hopes of making it to the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
As the girls hang out after practice, playing around in the grass, Ellis notes the team has grown up and united throughout the season.
“I feel like we talk a lot more to each other, and we cheer for each other more,” she said. “I feel like at the beginning of the year we didn’t cheer as much or as loud as we do now.
“We’re always up at the fence screaming for each other, giving them encouragement.”
A WORK IN PROGRESS
The Lady Buffs may be in a much better spot than they were a couple of months ago, but they’re not getting too comfortable in the final stretch of district play.
“We’re getting there, but we’re not fully there,” Harrigan said. “It’s a work in progress and I knew that.
“I knew that it was going to take some time to instill my philosophy, my culture, whatever you want to call it. I knew it was going to take some time. It’s getting there.”
Since her return, Ellis is leading Florence in RBIs, batting average, hits and extra-base hits. She’s only focused on one thing each time she steps up to the plate.
“Whenever I step in the box, I don’t hear anything,” she said. “I zone everyone out, and I just play my game, and I play for my team.
“And whatever happens, happens.”
The Lady Buffs don’t mind if you look at their record on paper and think they’re not a threat. They know the journey they’ve taken to get to where they are today and enjoy proving the doubters wrong.
“They can look at it and think that we’re not good,” Ramirez said, “but they’re going to realize that whenever they step on our field or we step on their field, that it’s going to be a pretty hard competition because we’re not the same team.”
And no matter how the season end, Ramirez adds, “We can still say we worked our way up and got what we wanted, and we’ll be able to say that to the last inning of our last game. We fought really hard.”
Until that last game, the Lady Buffs will keep on getting after it — today.