This is the time of the year when the high school softball season is at its best.
Later this week was supposed to mark the regional semifinal round, as the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders as they continue their quest for Austin and the state tournament, which was scheduled to take place on June 2-5.
However, Red and Charline McCombs Field will remain quiet just as has been the case with all softball diamonds around the state since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the University Interscholastic League to first postpone the season on Mar. 12 and later announce its full cancellation.
While soccer teams had been able to put together a large body of work and state favorites had emerged, the same cannot be said about softball, where most districts had only played one or two games prior to the regular weekly slate starting after returning from Spring Break.
It is impossible to predict how the last two months would have unfolded, but several local races were shaping up to be good ones.
Rowlett and Sachse battled it out for 10-6A supremacy in 2017 and 2018, but district newcomer Wylie made its voice heard last season by going undefeated en route to the crown.
While the losses to the Pirates were the only blemishes on the Mustangs’ resume on their way back to the playoffs for the third consecutive season, it was a different story for the Eagles.
Rowlett finished in a tie for fourth place with Naaman Forest, and it took avenging an earlier loss to the Rangers in a play-in game to extend their streak of postseason appearances to 20 in a row.
Though the Eagles endured some struggles during non-district early on this season, they were one of three teams off to 2-0 starts in 10-6A with both victories coming via the run rule.
Rowlett returned a solid nucleus with veteran leaders Emily Everitt, Katelyn Dotts, Kelsi Dotts and Ashleigh McLeroy on the mound. They had also gotten early contributions from Jaidyn Barnard, Andrea Coady, Riley Smith and Lindsey Workman.
Sachse (6-9-1 overall) was 1-1 in district as it opened with a loss to Wylie, but rebounded by run-ruling Naaman Forest.
The Mustangs also had a solid corps back in place, including three-time first-team all-district catcher Tarynn Luttrull, who was off to another great start hitting .385 with seven doubles, one home run and 13 runs batted in.
Senior outfielder Bailey Balderson, another three time all-10-6A honoree, had a .467 on-base percentage, junior centerfielder Nya Brown led the team in stolen bases and junior first baseman Caitlin Clem was hitting .306 with 13 RBIs.
It is the younger players who could have made the difference in overtaking Wylie.
Sophomore Madison McClarity, last year’s co-newcomer of the year, was off to a blistering start, batting .583 with nine doubles, six home runs and 33 runs batted in. McClarity had also stepped into a larger role on the mound, where she had 35 strikeouts in 38.2 innings.
Fellow sophomore Kayla Olthouse was doing the job at the plate, where she hit .306 with 14 runs scored, and her 46.0 innings pitched led the team.
Sachse had also gotten a boost from a quartet of freshmen, headlined by Madison Trusty, who was hitting .350 with 10 runs scored, and Kelsea Flores, who held down a .460 batting average with 24 runs.
The Pirates were still going to be a tough hurdle to overcome.
Wylie (8-3-2, 2-0) graduated 10-6A most valuable player Annie Gunther, but her younger sister, junior Averie Gunther, picked up where she left off, striking out 10 and allowing only two hits in a 7-0 win over Sachse in the district opener.
The Pirates also returned defensive player of the year Rylen Wiggins and co-newcomer of the year Mikayla Hoffman .
Lakeview did not have a lot of proven commodities, but joined Rowlett and Wylie with a 2-0 start, matching its district win total from a year ago, and Garland, who finished third last season, was 1-1 with all-district performers Stephanie Dale, Rebecca Gauer, Launa Castaneda and Carolina Valencia.
The first round of the playoffs is tough sledding against powerful 9-6A, with Wylie the only team to advance last year on its way to the regional finals.
Taking the next step could mean a match-up with 11-6A, which boasted its own interesting storylines.
Last season, Rockwall held off Longview by just one game for the district title, with Rockwall-Heath and Horn also joining the playoff field.
Through the early stages, five of the seven teams were .500 or better, with the other pair not far off.
The Jaguars have represented Mesquite ISD in the 6A playoffs in each of the last two seasons and were off to a 1-1 start.
Horn had power in the middle of the plate with senior all-district utility player of the year Taylor Thompson in the three hole, sophomore Kailee Issac Bautista, last year’s newcomer of the year, hitting clean-up and Jadyn Julka following her.
Thompson and Julka had gotten the call on the mound and the Jaguars had also gotten contributions from Taylor Johnson, Miranda Salina and Elizabeth Mendoza.
North Mesquite (6-9-1, 0-1) has not made the playoffs since 2017 but had the potential to shake up the standings.
The Stallions knew they could rely on senior captain and three-time all-district third baseman Haleigh Mitchell who was off to another strong start, hitting .462 with 19 runs, three home runs and 12 runs batted in.
The other captain, senior, Madison Peters, was also delivering, batting .421 with six doubles and 15 RBIs.
But North Mesquite also got a boost from a trio of freshmen.
Shortstop Gabrielle Briones was leading the team with a .488 batting average to go along with 19 runs, 11 doubles and 11 runs batted in.
Second baseman Kaitlyn Murphree was hitting .371 with 14 runs and eight driven in and Raegan Davis and homered and driven in eight at the plate and had struck out 21 in 42.2 innings.
Mesquite (5-5-1, 0-2) was following a similar script.
Senior Madi Hays, an all-district honoree, was hitting a scorching .556 at the plate and senior Diamond Oliver was also off to a solid start.
Sophomore Jazelle Hernandez picked up where she left off from an impressive debut, batting .391, junior Summer Dixon had a .471 batting average and freshman Marissa Roman was a potential star, hitting .571 with 14 runs, six doubles, one triple, one home run and 13 RBIs.
It was still going to be a tough road to navigate, as Longview returned a stout sister duo in pitcher of the year Kennedy Cameron and first-team catcher Keris Cameron, as well as defensive player of the year shortstop Jordan McClain.
The two Rockwall schools graduated some talent, but generally find a way to reload and both had winning records.
The ingredients were there for a pair of interesting races that might have featured some playoff match-ups down the road, but unfortunately in 2020, they will never know.