Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

April 29, 2014

Navarro Softball: Bulldogs head for Region XIV Tournament with bond, drive

Corsicana — There's a large white board that hangs in the Navarro softball team's locker room.

Nothing special about the board. You've seen them, just a blank white board.

But there's nothing blank about this one. It carries the hopes and dreams of the Bulldogs team — not in one broad stroke message or team slogan, but in bits and pieces that have found their way there over the course of the season, a collection of thoughts and goals that define who and what this team is all about.

The writing is on the wall — these players care about each other.

“The coaches didn't put the team goals on the board. The players their goals at the beginning of the season and they have added to the board all year,'' said Navarro Coach Jessica Karenke, whose team enters the Region XIV Tournament on Thursday with the hopes of winning the title and earning a trip to nationals.

That's what's at stake this weekend in Lufkin, where the four-day tournament ends on Sunday with a title game.

Navarro (35-13) has already won the East Zone title with an impressive 17-3 run. Now it's time to get serious, a time to make a run at the national tournament. It starts at 3:00 on Thursday against Blinn College.

“They're excited,'' Karenke said. “They want to get out of town and get started on their next goal.''

The Bulldogs are loaded with talent on the mound, in the field and at the plate, where they can hit up and down the lineup. The top three hitters in the lineup are remarkable. Left fielder Destiny Kennedy is hitting .390 and has scored 46 runs in 48 games, All-American shortstop Monique Miller is hitting .441. She can fly and has a rocket for an arm at shortstop, where she glides and dives and gets to just about everything. Between Miller and third baseman Kristen Ahearn, it's almost impossible to get a ground ball into left field.

The No. 3 hitter, second baseman Jade Havard is just as tough on the right side of the infield, and is batting .406. Ahearn bats in the cleanup spot and is hitting .370 with a lot of clout. She's belted eight homers and driven in 49 runs. Havard has driven in 47 and scored 37.

The fifth hitter is one of those heart and soul catchers, and arguably the best in the region. Megan Noel commands respect in front of and behind the plate. She's hitting .323 and has driven in 23 runs and is like a rock behind the plate.

The team batting average is .376 and everybody in the lineup contributes.

The No. 9 hitter, center fielder Caitlin Moerbe, isn't really a No. 9 hitter at all. She's basically a leadoff hitter in the ninth spot and it's amazing how many rallies begin at the bottom of Navarro's lineup with Moerbe providing the spark. She's hitting .406 and she can fly.

“She's the fastest player I've ever had,'' said Karenke, who knew exactly what she was doing when she put Moerbe in the ninth spot. Kennedy is such a great situational hitter and Miller has great baseball instincts and can also fly around the bases. She's scored 54 runs.

But it's not the stacked lineup or even the deep pitching of Ciera Luna (19-6 with a 1.31 ERA and 111 strikeouts), Camrie Helm (13-3 with a 3.20 ERA), Britney Bledsoe and Olivia Farmer or Navarro's brilliant play in the field that gives the Bulldogs their edge.

No, it's something else.

“We all play for each other,'' Havard said.

That's at the heart of this team. The way these player believe in each other and play for one another. It's not a cliché at Navarro, where the energy and effort on the field — even in a simple infield drill during practice — is sky high.

“We all want the same thing,'' Miller said. “We all have the same goals.''

There's more.

“We all trust each other,'' Miller said. “I feel confident with whoever is up at the plate, no mater who it is. We all feel confident with all of us.''

It's that bond that has helped get Navarro here, and it's that same bond that the players on this team hope carries them to the nationals.

“I really think the camaraderie they have with each other is going to take us a long way,'' Karenke said. “These guys have that special bond. They are driven by it. They want to do it for each other. When you have a driving force I think it's a game changer.''

The Bulldogs were rolling in the regular season and that faith in each other helped them rip off a 15-1 start in their 20-game region season. Then they split the last four games, but the late slip didn't affect the way they feel about each other or how they feel about winning the region tournament.

“I think it was good for us,'' Miller said. “After winning all those games in a row it's natural to have a letup. It taught us that any team can beat any team on a given day.

Havard said, “It was an eye-opener.''

This team won't go into the region tournament with any complacency, and will be out to prove a point and it will go into the tournament aware of just what needs to be done.

“We have to be humble,'' Miller said.

They will do that together, too.

The board has is full of goals and sayings and encouraging words for a team that shouts and pulls for everyone all the time.

Their voices were loud and filled the ball park at practice on Tuesday, overlapping and punching the air with “Way to go Babeeeeeeeeeee,” and “That's it kid,'' in a rising symphony of shouts that were like pats on the back that seemed to lift the team and the diamond right off the ground.

The covered white board is staying in Corsicana, but that team with one heartbeat and that we're in this together, “Babeeeee” attitude is headed for Lufkin.

“They really like each other, really care about each other.'' Karenke said. “And they have worked hard. It's been a great season, and I think we're in a real good place.''

 

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