MARCUS SOFTBALL

Marcus pitcher Lexi Benson is one of several returners from a Lady Marauder squad that placed second in District 6-6A last season.

The 2018-19 high school sports year was rife with new challenges for Lewisville ISD and Coppell, which made the move to District 6-6A and welcomed Irving ISD along for the ride. The result was another year of quality athletics from several of the most prominent programs in the state.

Throughout the summer, Star Local Media will reflect on the year that was for 6-6A’s eight schools while also looking ahead to what lies in store for 2019-20.

With that said, here’s the ninth installment of Six Questions for District 6-6A.

1. Who is the preliminary favorite in 6-6A softball?

For the past three seasons, Flower Mound has claimed the top seed in the LISD softball district, but with two-thirds of its lineup lost to graduation, there could be a changing of the guard just a few miles south.

Marcus enters the 2020 season facing the opposite predicament from its chief rival, returning two-thirds from a lineup that posted a 12-2 district record last season. Although losing the bat of Offensive Player of the Year Brooke Lawson hurts, the Lady Marauders are stacked with proven varsity performers, from Utility Player of the Year Lexi Benson, to Newcomer of the Year Bella Hernandez and all-district first-teamers Mikaila Kenney, Brooke Johnson, Madison Johnson and Haidyn Sokoloski.

No team in 6-6A softball sports a greater mix of experience and talent, and the Lady Marauders should be in prime position to benefit from both.

2. Who is the preliminary favorite in 6-6A baseball?

Flower Mound settled for second place before navigating a five-round voyage through the postseason, but had its struggles during the district schedule handling Marcus’ airtight pitching staff in a pair of 2-1 losses.

But with the Marauders’ go-to arms, Tyler Morgan and Blake Mayfield, off to college, that should be a welcome sigh of relief for the Jaguars next season.

That could bear itself out in the 6-6A standings as well, with Flower Mound primed to build off last season’s regional finals run with six starting hitters projected to return to head coach Danny Wallace’s lineup, including the top third of the order with Will Miller, Austin Russell and Cam Brown.

One of the premier pitchers in the district, Brown should give the Jaguars a decided edge on most nights as well.

3. What are some storylines to monitor throughout 6-6A baseball and softball?

Speaking of Brown, with reigning 6-6A MVP Austin Wallace graduating, he could very well take up that mantle during his senior year after going 11-1 as a starter last season alongside a 1.90 ERA, 118 strikeouts, a .361 batting average, six home runs and 37 RBIs.

Those numbers garner an MVP accolade most years, and if Brown meets or exceeds the level he performed as a junior, big things could be in store for the Jaguars.

Meanwhile, the 2020 season will mark the debut of the Ryan Howard era at Coppell, as he takes the reins of the program after a successful run at Lake Dallas. Almost by default, the Cowboys figure to have their say in the district title equation, given the way their talent reloads, but all eyes will be on whether under new leadership, the Cowboys can at last translate that potential into a lengthy playoff run (Coppell has only been four roads deep one time since 2007).

Speaking of which, for all the promise that Marcus softball has on paper, the Lady Marauders are battling their own postseason drudges – having not advanced past the bi-district round since 2014. There’s reason to believe that slump ends next spring, but as last season showed, 5-6A is nothing to be trifled with on the softball diamond.

How the Lady Marauders make good on their potential will be worth monitoring, as will how Flower Mound reloads in an effort to retain its district championship. Although they have a wealth of talented seniors to replace, retaining pitcher Kaitlyn Sadler, all-district first-teamer Kayla Wallace and promising up-and-comer Makenna Andrews is still a solid core.

The Lady Jaguars also had a productive junior varsity season, so perhaps replenishing the ranks will come quicker than expected.

4. Which 6-6A sport will feature the most tightly contested race – district title or playoff spots, in general – in 2019-20?

Perhaps it’s a case of recency, but as the clock ticks closer to football season, it feels like fans could be in store for some parity on the 6-6A gridiron.

Flower Mound and Lewisville surprised many by finishing as the top two teams in the district, but both have significant questions to answer – Flower Mound’s offensive line and Lewisville’s defense – in order to author a repeat run this fall.

Meanwhile, Marcus’ offense could be as loaded as it has been in years, while Hebron has generated some early buzz as a possible 6-6A frontrunner and Coppell has the longest active playoff streak of any team in the district (six years).

Heck, even the Irving ISD teams had moments of brilliance last season (MacArthur vs. Coppell, Nimitz vs. Marcus).

With the season a little over a month away, it doesn’t feel like there’s a defined favorite in 6-6A football, which should make for a captivating season.

5. Which district gets the better of bi-district competition in 2019-20: 5-6A or 6-6A?

Pound-for-pound, this might be the most contentious bi-district series in the state, with both districts sporting teams across all sports capable of making serious headway in the playoffs.

In 2018-19, 6-6A came away with a 17-15 edge, meaning all 5-6A needed was to reverse one loss in order to draw even. Ultimately, LISD and Coppell squeaked out an edge thanks to dominant showings in boys soccer, boys basketball and baseball, which negated 5-6A’s success in girls soccer and softball.

Given the caliber of these two districts, it’s foolhardy to expect similar results across any one sport, and the smart money is likely on another razor-thin verdict with a game or two likely swinging the end result.

If playing sheer probabilities, 6-6A likely doesn’t get swept in the first round of the softball playoffs again, but 5-6A could just as easily make up ground with a bounce-back showing on the basketball court.

For the sake of picking a winner, 6-6A seems like a better bet to maintain its consistency across the board.

6. What is a potential surprise team in 6-6A for 2019-20?

Despite missing the playoffs in 2018, there’s some definite rebound potential with Marcus football this season.

The Marauders averaged a middle-of-the-road 26.5 points per game in 2018, only cracking the top 25 in the area in total passing yards, but the ceiling for the Marcus offense should see a welcome boost this fall with a revamped receiving corps for Division I quarterback prospect Garrett Nussmeier.

Marcus qualified for the state 7-on-7 tournament over the summer for the first time in 17 years thanks in part to the emergence of receiver J.Michael Sturdivant, a transfer from Kansas who flashed an immediate chemistry with his quarterback and plenty of big-play potential for the Marauders.

Couple that with the addition of Denton transfer Marcellus Lockley, who earned all-district honors as both a receiver and defensive back for the Broncos, plus the breakout potential at running back with Tyson Edwards (7.2 yards per carry in 2018), and the Marauders could pile up some points this fall.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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