Kathy Schoettle is only a few weeks into her first season as Allen’s head softball coach, but already she feels like her team’s work ethic will be enough to hang in what’s shaping up to be a competitive district.
That grit helped the Lady Eagles work through a hitless eight innings March 11 in their 5-6A opener against McKinney Boyd before at last breaking through in the bottom of the ninth. An inside-the-park home run by junior Brynn Burchfield was the difference in a 1-0 walk-off victory over the Lady Broncos. Sitting at 1-0 in conference play, Allen carried an 11-3-2 mark into Tuesday’s road contest against Little Elm.
“They show up to work hard every day and I think that can carry us pretty far in this district. I think it’s one of those districts where if you take an opponent lightly you can get beat,” Schoettle said. “The kids show up with a great attitude and are having lots of fun. With the camaraderie that we’ve developed, I feel like even if we’re having a subpar game that we can end up getting a win out of it because they want to win for each other.”
No doubt the Lady Eagles endured some struggles against a Boyd squad led by one of the top pitchers in the state in senior Kinsey Kackley. The hurler struck out a staggering 497 batters as a sophomore before missing her junior year due to an ACL injury.
Sidelined by another knee injury to begin this season, Kackley looked no worse for the wear against Allen — she struck out 18 batters and held the Lady Eagles without a hit in 7.1 innings pitched. With one out in the eighth inning, Boyd subbed in freshman Erika Thurman for Kackley — something Schoettle suggested could have been related to a pitch count with Kackley making just her second start of the season.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Lady Eagles capitalized on a hard-hit ball down the first-base line by Burchfield.
“It went all the way to the corner and bounced off the fence,” Schoettle said. “Our lead-off hitter has quite a bit of speed so as soon as that ball got to the ball, we’re just thinking, ‘Go.’”
Burchfield used that speed to finish off an inside-the-park home run, lifting Allen to a 1-0 victory following the team’s only hit of the contest.
“I think after nine innings and everything that happened during the game … the fact our girls were resilient enough to stay with it and keep fighting, it was pretty amazing to see the end,” Schoettle said. “When Brynn crossed the plate, everyone was there and so excited for her.”
Schoettle lauded her team’s resolve, noting that she and her staff had spent the days leading up to the game focusing on that mental aspect of a sport that seldom rewards offense at the plate.
“We had discussed dealing with failure during a game. That’s just the nature of our sport,” she said. “We had prepared them for an entire week for that, just to get them used to knowing that if they don’t get the result they want at the plate, they’ve got to help out in other ways.”
While Allen worked through its hardships at the plate, senior Alexis Telford kept the team afloat in the circle by pitching all eight innings, allowing just two hits and striking out nine batters.
“Telford was amazing that night. She had half the strikeouts Kinsey did, but she was super efficient,” Schoettle said. “We’ve talked about that this season, emphasizing that you don’t see eight pitches to get a strikeout when you can get a ground-ball out in one pitch. Even though Telford threw nine innings, it was just 94 pitches. She worked the zone to get ground-ball outs and only had two balls hit to the outfield.”
As the Lady Eagles continue to wade through the early stages of their district schedule, with key matchups looming against area powerhouses Denton Guyer and Prosper, Schoettle has been plenty encouraged in her girls’ production. The win over Boyd extended Allen’s unbeaten streak to six in a row, including recent shutout wins over the Lady Broncos, Hebron (13-0) and Trophy Club Byron Nelson (7-0) — where Schoettle coached for 11 years before coming to Allen.
“At the beginning of the year, it was pretty overwhelming,” Schoettle said. “I had to learn a new online platform, but as far as the game goes, kids are kids and as long as they’re willing to learn and adapt, coaching can be a lot of fun.”
Lady Eagles roll against Little Elm
For three innings, the Little Elm softball team held its own against a tough Allen squad.
Maria Florentino clubbed an RBI double in the home half of the third to make it a one-run ballgame with half of the game still to come.
But, Allen flexed its muscles a short time later. The Lady Eagles answered five runs in the fourth inning before using a 13-run top of the sixth to blow the game wide open, eventually cruising to a 20-1 run-rule victory.
Allen (12-3-2), which was coming off a 1-0 nine-inning victory against McKinney Boyd, needed only one inning to double that run total. Sami Hood opened the scoring with an RBI triple. Two batters later, Taylor Wright clubbed an RBI double into left field to increase the Lady Eagle lead to 2-0.
But, Florentino, Little Elm’s starting pitcher, held a potent Allen offense scoreless over the game’s next three innings. She also aided her cause with an RBI double in the third. But, it proved to be the lone hit of the game for the Lady Lobos (1-10).
Allen pitcher Alexis Telford was on point from the beginning, allowing just the one hit to go along with 10 strikeouts.
It remained a one-run game until the fourth. Harper Garrett, Mack Ellison and Chloe Schimmel each recorded an RBI single. Hood capped off the big inning for Allen with a run-scoring triple.
-David Wolman contributed to this story