SALADO — It has been a historic season for Salado softball.
And it’s not over yet.
After claiming the first district championship in program history with an 11-1 District 19-4A record, the Lady Eagles head to Waco to face China Spring in the area round of UIL playoffs tonight.
The best of three series is just another obstacle Salado must face along the road as they continue to chase history and a state title.
Season of Firsts
Most teams stick to the batting cages when it is drizzling outside, but even in rainy conditions, the Lady Eagles are out practicing situational hitting in their windbreakers.
“Runner at second, one out!” Salado head coach Ashton Cooper yells, and the girls echo the situation back to the outfield before she pops the ball toward right field.
Over and over, Cooper yells out the various game scenarios before hitting the ball all over the field.
While practice appears to run smoothly, it hasn’t always been this way for the first-year head coach.
“I was the Wicked Witch of the West,” Cooper said, thinking back to how her team viewed her at the start of the season. “It’s a lot different with a younger coach coming in here, and I know I’m a lot of energy. I like upbeat, and I like to do things really fast.
“They were able to be receptive of that, and I think them being able to do that helped them mature along the way as athletes and as kids.”
Everyone can agree the turning point for Salado came when the Lady Eagles faced Liberty Hill in the first round of district play.
“We prepared all week for that game,” Cooper recalled, thinking back to all the scouting and all the preparations the team made. “We knew going into that game that they’re really good.
“They’re a great team, they’re well coached and have been successful in the past.”
That late-March game was one of the best games Cooper said she’s seen her team play.
“I think that would have been the turning point for us,” she adds, “as far as believing in each other and them believing in me and my coaching staff.
“As a coach, sometimes you just have this feeling when you know your kids are going to do it, they’re going to pull through, and I think we, as a coaching staff, had that feeling going into it.”
The Lady Eagles also believe the walk-off 4-3 victory in the 10th inning was a season-defining moment.
“That has been our main goal the last four years — to beat them” Salado senior Abbie James said. “Being able to accomplish that, especially because they’ve been to state and they’re a good team, being able to come together as a team and get the win out of that was awesome.”
That Liberty Hill win was another first for the team. It was the first time the Lady Eagles ever won a game over the Lady Panthers since they joined the district.
“That was a great game,” sophomore Erin Faske said. “We were all excited that we won.
“It was a dogfight but we battled out and won, so it was great.”
Keep on Chasing
As district champions for the first time in school history, the 21-4 Lady Eagles realize they’re paving the way for the next group of Salado softball teams.
“It’s very exciting,” Faske said of the thought of being a trailblazer. “I’m very excited to be a part of this team and in the years to come.
“But we have to finish this season off and, hopefully, we get far in the playoffs.”
For freshman starting catcher Rylee Oborski, this season has set the tone for the rest of her high school career.
“I think it’s been an amazing experience,” she said. “I can’t wait for the next three years.
As for the two seniors, being district champions is the best way to cap off their high school careers.
“It’s been pretty cool, being a part of those historical moments,” James said, “and being able to start off coach Cooper’s career like that has been pretty cool, helping her get to that point and making these memories with these girls.”
As Salado prepares to continue their playoff run tonight, Cooper believes that the success of her first year as head coach is due to the girls on her team.
“The only way to describe it is I hit the jackpot with these kids,” she said, noting that she was an assistant coach to Kory Craddick last season before the opportunity for her to take charge came.
Cooper knew that she couldn’t miss the chance to coach this team.
“They’ve earned every single thing,” Cooper said. “All the recognition that they’ve gotten is because of them.
“I haven’t done anything. All I’ve done is drive the bus, and they know that.
“Again, the only way to describe it is grateful and blessed.”
After all the highs and lows of the season have led to this point, Cooper knows her team has what it takes to fight until the very last out.
“What separates this group is that they’ll do whatever it takes to fix mistakes,” she said. “That’s what’s made them successful so far, so I’m hoping that we stick with what we know how to do and what we do best.
“Hopefully, the outcome is good for us.”