RIDING THE WAVE OF MOMENTUM

in Softball/Spring Sports

Clifton Lady Cub softball clinches another trip to the Class 3A postseason with a three-game winning streak

Momentum can be a powerful force on the softball diamond. And even after sitting out most of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown last spring, the Clifton Lady Cub softball team picked up right where they left off.

Heading into the final week of the Texas high school softball regular season riding a three-game win streak, the Clifton Lady Cubs have already punched their ticket to the Class 3A playoffs. And despite the road block and kick in the teeth delivered by the shutdown last spring, the Lady Cubs continue to build on the District 17-3A success they began in 2019.

By run-ruling Riesel, 11-1, last Friday, the Lady Cubs (6-4 in district, 16-7 overall) secured a postseason berth to match their 2019 accomplishment. And if not for last season’s shutdown, Clifton would likely be capturing their third straight trip to the playoffs. With two district games remaining, the Lady Cubs will be battling Troy (5-5, 16-7) for third place when Clifton hosts the Lady Trojans at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“Now that we’ve clinched a playoff spot, tonight and next Tuesday will determine our seeding,” Clifton softball head coach Sam Ledlow said. “I was pleased with the Riesel win Friday. I thought we came out ready to play even though it took a few innings to adjust at the plate. After a long track day and delay Thursday which pushed the meet to Friday, I thought our girls competed well in our game, and I was proud of their efforts.”

Behind a shutdown pitching performance from Kasandra Gaona, the Lady Cubs used a seven-run third inning to take control against Riesel (0-10, 2-10). Kelsey Wetegrove and Kary Fuentes slammed home runs while Kambrie Kettler went three-for-three at the plate with a double and three runs batted in. From the circle, Gaona tossed the complete game allowing only one unearned run while striking out six.

Clifton began the current win streak with a hard-fought 7-1 victory over arch-rival Whitney (2-7, 11-13) April 1. After the Lady Wildcats jumped out to a 1-0 first inning lead, the Lady Cubs rallied for three runs in the third before putting Whitney away with four more in the sixth.

Wetegrove delivered a three-run home run, Bailey Ledbetter went three-for-four at the plate with a triple, two runs scored and two RBIs, while Kynli Bearden, Sydney Fullerton and Fuentes contributed two hits apiece. From the circle, Gaona entered the game in relief to pitch 4 2/3 no-hit innings, walking only one while striking out 10.

Making it two in a row, the Lady Cubs crushed McGregor (2-7, 5-14), 15-1, last Tuesday as Gaona did not allow an earned run while scattered five hits, two walks and striking out 10 in a complete game performance.

Jumping out to a commanding 5-0 lead in the first inning, Clifton pounded out 18 hits — including seven for extra bases. Fuentes led the Lady Cubs at the plate by going three-for-four with a double, three runs scored and three RBIs. But she had plenty of help as Bearden went three-for five with two RBIs, Fullerton went three-for-five with a run scored and an RBI, while Layla Gaona, Kasandra Gaona and Wetegrove contributed two hits each.

“I was proud of how we came ready to play, even though a few girls played a position they wouldn’t normally play,” Ledlow said. “I love how this team steps up to fill positions when needed. As long as we keep playing like we have been, we’ll be in a good spot heading into the playoffs.”

After opening District 17-3A competition with a 7-3 loss to 12th-ranked and league-leading Lorena March 2, the Lady Cubs embarked on an eight-game winning streak. Building momentum by marching through the Clifton Tournament March 5-6, the Lady Cubs resumed district play with dominating victories over Whitney, 11-0, McGregor, 10-0, and Riesel, 16-7.

But Clifton closed out the first round of district with back-to-back losses to Troy, 11-0, and at West (9-1, 15-5), 7-2, before opening the second round with another loss to undefeated Lorena (10-0, 16-5-1), 14-7, on the road. Snapping that three-game skid just in time, the Lady Cubs mounted a three-game win streak to secure their spot in the playoffs.

“We played better each game and will continue to improve on the little things,” Ledlow said. “I’m excited about this group of girls and glad we get a season this year.”

With the Lady Cubs in the midst of the season of their dreams in 2020 after advancing to the Class 3A playoffs as the district’s fourth place team in 2019, their high school sports world came to an abrupt end when Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that all Texas schools would remain closed to in-person learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. As a result, the UIL followed suit by cancelling all remaining spring activities, eliminating Clifton’s opportunity for an extended playoff run before it even had a chance to begin.

In the midst of winning eight of their last nine games, the Lady Cubs opened District 17-3A competition last season with three straight victories before their momentum came to a screeching halt when the UIL shutdown the season due to the pandemic last spring. Clifton (3-0 in district, 9-7 overall in 2020) had just completed a back-to-back, home-and-away sweep against defending co-district champion Whitney to take the early driver’s seat in the pennant chase.

 “I had five seniors on my team last year, and that group was very talented together because of their cohesiveness,” Ledlow said. “We started off district beating Maypearl at home, and then taking on Whitney beating them twice. I know we were all ready for a great season and couldn’t wait to see how we would end up.

“While I couldn’t stand the thought of not getting to finish the season out with them, I know the rest of us have remembered the legacy they left on the softball diamond.”

While many Clifton softball fans still ponder the season that might have been in 2020, this season’s Lady Cubs are well on their way to making a legacy all their own.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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