The District 9-6A softball schedule was a mere two games old before having its season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, spelling an abrupt end to what figured to be one of the area’s most competitive conferences.
Teams like Prosper and Allen were among those to make early statements in 9-6A, while the proven playoff pedigree of the Plano ISD trio was sure to make things interesting as the league slate unfolded.
Here’s a look at few of the unfinished storylines within the district as teams begin the build toward 2021.
Allen’s hot start
Across the abbreviated 9-6A schedule, there may not have been a more impressive outing than Allen’s conference opener at Plano — an 11-1 victory that required six innings before the run rule was invoked.
Merely scoring double-digit runs on the Lady Wildcats — something that hadn’t happened since March 2018 — is an impressive feat in its own right, but doing so on Plano’s home field, where they surrendered just 4.3 runs in district play last season, added some extra weight to the performance.
It was a glimpse into the Lady Eagles’ potential, with senior Lauren Lopez, sophomore Brooklyn Purtell, junior Alexis Telford and junior Mackenzie Duckworth among the players who logged extra-base hits in the rout.
Allen built off that showing two days later with a 7-2 win over McKinney, upping its scoring average for the month of March to 6.6 runs per game. It’s anyone’s guess how much further the Lady Eagles could have gone.
Plano’s senior class
There isn’t a senior class in 9-6A softball with more skins on the wall than Plano’s — a core chalked in numerous players who have held down starting roles since they were freshmen. Seniors Cate Bade, Olivia Gorman and Natalie O’Brien were all in the midst of their fourth years on varsity, while seniors Lily Ray, Maggie Robbins and Audrey McNeill had all been part of the previous three seasons.
All six have chipped in during valuable moments for Plano over that time, from McNeill taking over as the Lady Wildcats’ go-to pitcher during their 2018 state semifinal run, right down to a pinch-hitting Robbins logging a timely double off a bunt that helped a come-from-behind, playoff-clinching win over McKinney Boyd last season.
Playoff qualifiers for the past 13 seasons, the pieces were in place for another big year for the Lady Wildcats before the pandemic set in.
Bid for redemption
In a different district, a team like East might be a shoo-in for the postseason most years. But the strength of 9-6A has dealt the Lady Panthers their share of hurdles since making a regional semifinal run in 2017.
In 2018, East had two chances at clinching a postseason berth go awry in the final week of the regular season. One year later, the Lady Panthers got Kinsley Kackley’ed in a play-in game against Boyd for the district’s final playoff spot.
East didn’t lack for motivation heading into 2020, and that was reflected in the play of their two seniors, Carson Armijo and Jordon Manworren. When the season was put on hold, Armijo was hitting .458 and had already clubbed seven home runs, while Manworren erupted in district play with a .714 batting average and six RBIs through East’s two conference bouts.
Aspirations of a postseason return now rest on 2021.
Rebuild or reload?
Plano West was a fascinating team to monitor in 2020. One of the area’s best the year prior, the Lady Wolves were tasked with replacing a cornerstone pitcher in 9-6A MVP Tatum Boyd as well as a do-it-all outfielder in Elisa Rosado.
Having a lights-out pitcher in high school softball is like boasting a top-level quarterback on the football field in how it can impact a team’s game-to-game performance, and no doubt the Lady Wolves’ margin for error swelled a bunch with Boyd’s .978 ERA in their arsenal.
Head coach Mike Ledsome alternated between senior Chandler Gurney and junior Cynthia Ng leading up district play — deploying the latter for West’s opener against Plano, a winnable game that spiraled away from the Lady Wolves after allowing 10 runs over the final three innings in a 12-6 loss.
Given the departures of the 2019 senior class, those lapses were always going to be tougher to overcome for West in 2020.
How the Lady Wolves navigated through the pratfalls to realize their potential was among the most compelling subplots in the district.