All it takes is a quick look at the dugout during a Flower Mound softball game to see that the Lady Jaguars like to keep things energetic.
Be it the cavalcade of chants and cheers when a teammate either steps to the plate or accounts for a pivotal stop on defense, or the various props that scour the team’s dugout, Flower Mound never stops enjoying the moment.
The Lady Jaguars have had plenty to celebrate during the 2021 season with a whopping 36-3-1 record — a mark they’ve parlayed into their deepest playoff run ever and their first trip to the Class 6A state tournament.
Just as gratifying for Flower Mound is that it has been able to forge that path as a team.
“We’re all in it together. It’s not just one person — everyone knows their role and how we can succeed,” said Brooke Nauman, Flower Mound senior.
It’s a mentality that has permeated all throughout the Lady Jaguars’ 2021 campaign. They’ve leaned on that, as well as an infectious chemistry, to navigate a postseason full of firsts for this particular team.
Although Flower Mound as a program is no stranger to making noise in the postseason, the 2021 edition of the Lady Jaguars are relatively short on playoff experience. Four players — seniors Karson Hassan, Allie Hammond, Jordyn Holland and Jori Whinery — supported in backup roles as freshmen during the team’s regional quarterfinal run in 2018, and only three — Holland, Hammond and junior McKenna Andrews — were in the lineup for the final game of the team’s bi-district playoff series against Southlake Carroll in 2019.
The Lady Jaguars had a similar make-up to this year's group in 2020 and flashed potential along the way before the COVID-19 pandemic cut down the season before it could ever find its footing.
As Flower Mound co-head coaches Mark Larriba and Ali Baird attempted to steady the ship and pick up where the team left off, it meant buy-in from the top down.
“Even our seniors aren’t veterans. We had a senior-heavy team a couple years ago so last year was really about just finding our niche,” Larriba said. “We came to these seniors and said, ‘For us to be good, you’re going to have to lead and sacrifice to let the young talent blossom.’ They’ve bought into that.”
Larriba credited those seniors for setting a culture that has been instrumental in Flower Mound’s historic playoff run — one built on selflessness both on and off the field.
“One time during the season, I asked the group of seniors how they felt about other kids hitting for you at times,” Larriba said. “They said, ‘Coach, we know it’s going to happen. We’re ready for it and expect it.’ That’s huge buy-in from the seniors. Sometimes there’s groups that are like, ‘It’s my senior year, it’s my time to shine.’ Our seniors don’t believe that. They shine if the team shines.”
For the Lady Jaguars, that means following through on situational hitting no matter the spot in the lineup. The Lady Jaguars can dial up a potent short game — for instance, the team bunted on four consecutive at-bats in a May 13 playoff game against Allen — but weren’t bashful about swinging for power in their regional final series against Prosper. Flower Mound also prides itself on depth and that shows over the course of a game, with Larriba at the ready for a potential lineup tweak with a pinch-hitter if need be.
Just as central to that chemistry is a light-hearted camaraderie that kept the Lady Jaguars at an even keel amid the increasing stakes with each round of the postseason.
“It’s honestly kind of goofy at times,” said Katie Cantrell, Flower Mound sophomore. “We’ll laugh out in the field and try to have fun when it’s appropriate but know when it’s time to stay focused.”
“There’s not any drama or anything,” Nauman said. “No one hardly ever yells, and if they do, we understand that it’s on purpose and to help us. It’s never mean-spirited and just helps keep us accountable.”
The Lady Jaguars have reaped the benefits all season long. They ran the table in District 6-6A, allowing just 1.3 runs per game along the way, and have thrived in adverse quarters during the postseason.
Flower Mound has trailed in a best-of-3 series twice during the playoffs — in the bi-district round against McKinney Boyd and in the regional quarterfinals against Allen. In total, the Lady Jaguars have played five games where a loss would have ended their season — in those contests, they’ve outscored their opponents, 33-1.
“We’re just staying calm and collected and knowing that we can trust each other and have each other’s backs, no matter what,” said Logan Halleman, Flower Mound sophomore.
“We’ve had adversity that has made us stronger each time,” Larriba added. “We saw that right from the get-go against Boyd and definitely saw some strain but kept getting better and better.
“They’re having fun and they’re confident in each other. They don’t feel any burden of carrying the load.”
The Lady Jaguars enter Friday’s state semifinal against Deer Park, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Red and Charline McCombs Field at The University of Texas at Austin, playing perhaps their best softball of the season.
They’ve braved elite pitching with series wins over Boyd and Allen and out-slugged one of the area’s top lineups in Prosper. The Lady Eagles entered the regional finals at just eight runs allowed through their first four playoff series — in two games against Flower Mound, Prosper surrendered 24 runs on 23 hits.
“We have a plan when we go up there and we’ve done a really good job at just sticking with that plan,” Nauman said.
So much so that two wins are all that separate the Lady Jaguars from hoisting the first state championship in program history. They take aim at that conquest Friday in Austin.
“It would be the best feeling in the world,” Nauman said.