By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
It's been so long, no one could say with any certainty when the last time was.
But all that mattered was the Harker Heights softball team opened the District 12-5A slate with a convincing 14-1, five-inning victory over host Shoemaker on Tuesday.
"It is a big win, it's a big win for our kids, (because) I think the tides have turned just a little bit," Lady Knights head coach Jaime Stephens said. "We have kids that have a little bit more drive and determination ... so it's kind of nice to get that (win) under the belt."
After struggling to just five District 12-5A wins in three years under Stephens, the Lady Knights (4-6, 1-0 12-5A) find themselves on the right side of the win column.
"It feels great. It's a great way to get off to the season and we're just going to keep the momentum, and keep winning games," said junior Brianna Smith, who pitched the complete-game, two-hitter with six strikeouts.
Following a winless run through district in Stephens' first year (2009), Heights has shown gradual improvement with two victories in 2010 and three last season - including a season sweep of Ellison. But throughout that time, the once constant has been the Lady Knights struggles against sister school Shoemaker (1-10, 0-1), including a heartbreaking 9-8 come-from-behind victory for the Lady Grey Wolves in the district opener last year.
"It's always nice to start off with a win, they can believe in themselves because they start doubting themselves (with losses), and when you start doubting yourself (bad) things happen," Stephens said.
Smith was steady on the mound, pitching herself out of early jams with a pair of walks in each of the first two innings.
"That's a mental thing. I have to keep myself together, I have to know my team is there for me, they're going to back me up and make their plays," Smith said. "So I just had to regroup, calm down and relax and do what I do."
By then the Lady Knights were already up 6-0 following a five-run outburst in the top of the second as Heights plated three runs with two outs - including RBI knocks from junior leadoff hitter Blake Filip (2-for-4, two runs) and sophomore slugger Regan McIlvenna (2-for-4).
Heights continued its offensive explosion in the next inning when senior Ashley Hayden (2-for-3, two runs) opened the third with a single and scored following a double-steal to spark a four-run frame to lead 10-0 after three.
"We're going to run the bases, and that's what we've told them from Day 1 - we're going to be aggressive," Stephens said.
Shoemaker plated its lone run in the bottom of the fifth when junior Hailee Showers scored from third when a line drive rolled under the glove of Heights shortstop Allyssa Victorian, who dropped a pop fly to put her on one at-bat earlier.