By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
Maybe it’s that wacky game where the kids have to pick up Cherrios with a hard strand of spaghetti in their mouth, or the one where everyone rolls a softball from right field and the kid who gets the ball closest to the pitcher’s mound gets to hit first in batting practice.
They’re playing all kinds of off-the-wall games at Dawson these days, and they’re playing the game they love better than ever.
The Dawson Lady Bulldogs have emerged as a power, a force on the softball diamond, where everything is new and different this season, including all that winning.
“It’s a miracle,’’ said senior Stormi Matthews, who pitches, plays the outfield and third base. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say we went from a 2 to a 10.’’
The kids, every one of them, give the credit to new coach Larry Prince, who came in with a new attitude and a new way of playing the game.
“We knew from the first day of practice everything was different,’’ said Kaylee Martinez, who plays shortstop and pitches. “The difference from this year and last year is the positivity. We don’t make as many errors as we did last year because we have the want-to. It’s a totally different attitude. It’s just the atmosphere we have this year. Our goal is to win state.’’
For the record, Dawson’s record a year ago wasn’t anything special. The Lady Bulldogs won only two district games all year and finished the season at 7-19.
Right now they are 16-4, and that record includes some impressive wins in big tournaments against much bigger schools, including last week’s 5-0 run through the Bremond Tournament.
To put it bluntly, Prince made his kids believe.
“We are so much better this year,’’ said catcher Demi Dotson, a senior. “We all have the same goal. It’s not about I, it’s about the team. He got us motivated and all 18 of us to see what we had to do for ourselves. It can’t be about us, it’s about the team. And it doesn’t matter what we have done in the past. It’s what we do this year that counts.
“We put our faith in him, and we have all come together,’’ Dotson said. “Everything changed from that first day of practice. We didn’t have the drive last year. This year we have that fire under our butts to do it. Everyone has stepped up their game. It’s a whole team doing the job and taking care of business.’’
Prince changed the way practices are run, and he mixes in a lot of fun and games and makes everything — from bunting to base running to picking up Cherrios —competitive.
“You should see them when we have the Cherrios game,’’ Prince said. “We have teams and they are standing at the dugout shouting and yelling at the kids picking up the Cherrios. It’s competitive. They’re having fun.’’
Sure, that’s fun, but nothing lie the fun on the diamond, The kids can’t even describe just how much fun it is to win on the field.
“Oh, it’s a lot more fun, a lot more fun,’’ Dotson said. “And it’s very contagious.’’
Martinez said buntly: “We’re not getting run-ruled any more like last year. It’s a lot more fun to win.’’
The kids are diving head-first into the season and the results have just motivated them to play better. But there are other reasons.
“We’re a much better hitting team because we have a lot more batting practice,’’ Martinez said.
The team batting average is .355 but that’s just a number — the Dawson kids are playing better ball, hitting and running the bases and putting pressure on opponents.
“How he runs practice really helps us,’’ Matthews said of Prince. “He makes sure we know our situation in the games. It makes you more confident. You can trust your teammates. Now we’re making big plays and getting more hits and we’re smarter on the bases.’’
Prince took the job last spring as the school’s athletic director, head football coach and softball coach, and he brought his daughter with him to the school and to the mound.
And the addition of Caitlin Prince, a hard-throwing freshman, has made Dawson’s pitching staff not only much better, but deeper.
Matthews, who was the team’s ace a year ago, spent part of her junior season battling injuries, but she has been a dynamo this season and has a 5-0 record that includes a no-hitter and a 2.50 ERA. She is also one of the team’s leaders, and when the Dawson third baseman went out with an injury, Matthews moved from the outfield, where she plays when she’s not pitching, to third, where she has been a gem in the field. She’s hitting .405 and has scored 23 runs and driven in 16 runs in 20 games.
Martinez has been outstanding at shortstop and she’s been killing the ball at the plate, hitting a whopping .523 with 17 runs and 13 RBI’s. Dotson is having an incredible season behind the plate, where she catches, and at the plate, where she leads the team in hitting with a .571 batting average and leads the team in runs with 30. She’s Dawson’ leadoff hitter and has flourished in that role.
Jayln Miller, a junior who plays center field, is hitting .381 with 16 RBIs and Michaela Greer, a sophomore who plays first base, is hitting .381 and has scored 17 runs and driven in nine more.
The Lady Bulldogs are loaded on the mound. Matthews returned to the mound and is pitching even better than a year ago, striking out 28 batters in just 17 innings, and Martinez has been lights out and has a 3-0 record and a 0:00 ERA this season.
But what makes Dawson especially tough is the depth on the mound.
Caitlin Prince brings serious heat to the plate and she has pitched the most innings (47) and her strikeout ration is impressive. She has struck out 74 batters already this season and has a 7-2 record with a 1.90 ERA.
The three-girl rotation makes it tough on every team that plays Dawson, because they just don’t give up much.
“I really have great leadership from my three seniors,’’ Prince said of Matthews, Dotson and Martinez. “I knew this group of seniors had played a lot of softball and I knew they were athletic. I knew it was a mindset thing. I knew the only thing holding us back was us.’’
He came in and on the first day of practice and began changing that very mindset from the minute he walked onto the field.
Today, the Dawson kids break every huddle with the words “Win State!”
“Our focus and attitude was much better from that first day of practice,’’ Matthews said. “The first time he talked to us about softball he wanted to make sure we were focused and ready to take on the season and ready to win.’’
“I told them on the first day that we’re going to take care of the little things,’’ Prince said. “We’re going to make every rep count and big things will happen.’’
And in the process, he added a lot of fun games to practice, like a two-strike game where his players just get one pitch to hit (and compete in teams while they’re doing it).
“I like to keep things light,’’ Prince said. “The (Cherrios game) has nothing to do with softball, but they like it and it’s fun. I really believe things like that help bring them closer. The biggest thing about this team is how cohesive they are. The three seniors, I couldn’t be more proud of them for their leadership.
“And they’re winning more games and that’s fun.’’