Under new head coach, Clifton Lady Cub softball sweeps past Keene & Whitney after opening District 17-3A competition against top-ranked Grandview to compete for postseason berth
After getting a tough taste of what it will take to battle the best competition the state has to offer in Class 3A softball, the Clifton Lady Cubs began making some noise of their own in the race for playoff spots in District 17-3A.
Opening district against the top-ranked Grandview Lady Zebras (6-0 in district, 26-1 overall), the Lady Cubs were handed back-to-back demoralizing defeats, losing the first game, 20-0, in three innings before dropping the second contest, 16-1.
“We realized real quick that we are not ready to compete with a team that is loaded top to bottom in their order along with a very powerful pitching staff,” Clifton softball head coach Tim Vannatta said. “Grandview is by far the class of 3A softball in the state, and this is what we are striving to reach in the coming years for our program.”
But refusing to dwell on the lopsided losses, the Lady Cubs (4-2, 14-10) bounced back to post four straight district wins. Clifton began by sweeping two games from the Keene Lady Chargers with a 14-2 five-inning run-rule March 21 before powering to a dominating 16-1 victory in three innings March 24.
“Against Keene, we played a solid game in all phases on Tuesday,” Vannatta said. “Then on Friday, we were up 6-1 heading into the third inning and scored 10 runs, so the run rule was enforced during the bottom of third with one out.”
Riding the momentum of those two dominating wins, the Lady Cubs rallied for a come-from-behind 7-6 victory over the arch-rival Whitney Lady Wildcats last Tuesday before rolling to a convincing 21-11 run-rule win in five innings last Friday.
In the first game, Dixie Mayfield delivered a walk-off, run-scoring single for the game-winner. Trailing 4-0, the Lady Cubs scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth before taking a two-run lead with four more in the bottom of the fifth. But Whitney responded for two runs in the top of the sixth before Mayfield knocked in Layla Gaona for the dramatic victory.
Gaona led off the bottom of the seventh with a single up the middle. With Mayfield batting, Whitney attempted to pick off Gaona at first base, but the throw from catcher sailed past the first baseman, and Gaona advanced to third. Mayfield’s single up the middle past the second baseman scored the winning run to walk it off.
In the second game against Whitney, the Lady Cubs jumped out to a commanding lead early, scoring five runs in the first, two in the second and five more in the third. Whitney rallied for six runs in the bottom of the sixth before Clifton finally finished the Lady Wildcats off in the seventh.
“We hit the ball well all night long,” Vannatta said. The Lady Cubs will visit the West Lady Trojans (6-0, 14-13,1) this Tuesday before taking seven days off for the Easter weekend. Clifton softball will resume district play by hosting West at 7 p.m. April 11.
In any sport, learning a new style of play under a new head coach can be a daunting endeavor, and certainly softball remains a far cry from the exception. But the Clifton Lady Cub softball team has embraced the opportunity for a fresh start under new guidance with enthusiasm, a good attitude and hard work.
“The girls have done a great job of improving each day on the field,” said Vannatta, a veteran head coach assisted by Trevor Ernst. “Just about every player is playing a new position from the last few years. They are learning my coaching style, and I am seeing where each player can help us be the most successful.
“To a lady, not one has said a negative word about change. We have a great deal of learning still to do about how to play each position, but each Lady Cub has been very coachable and open to do so.
“Most importantly, we are getting better each time out,” Vannatta said. “I would like to thank the community, parents and players for making this transition for me a positive one. I feel like we are all pulling in the same direction. This type of support by all is what it takes to take that next step in any program. I look forward to great success in the future of our program this season and the coming years.”
Coming off the annual Clifton Lady Cub Tournament last weekend, the Lady Cubs own a respectable 6-6 record with only two games remaining before opening District 17-3A competition.
“The tournament was a great success,” Vannatta said. “I would like to thank our parents for taking care of the hospitality room that feeds umpires, coaches and volunteers during the three days. I would also like to thank the Little League folks for the concessions and help getting the field ready after all the rain.
“Last, but not least, thanks to Dr. Spitzer for all of the time and energy he spends working on the baseball and softball facility to make playing here in Clifton a positive experience for all who come here.”
In their final tune-up before opening district, the Lady Cubs hit the road to avenge last season’s playoff loss to Corsicana Mildred, knocking off the Lady Eagles, 6-5, on their home field March 11. Gaona and Addison Martin combined from the circle to slow down the Mildred bats, while Gaona went three-for-four at the plate and Sidney Fullerton scored two runs.
“We played perhaps our best game of the year to beat a very good Mildred team,” Vannatta said. “Along with probably our best team defensive effort of the season, we had timely hitting throughout the lineup.
“Laylah Gaona is improving each time out in the circle, as has Addison Martin. Offensively, we have shown the ability to score runs. We have worked hard on having a good approach at the plate, and I think we have improved greatly in that area. And in order to manufacture runs, we are working on the small ball aspects of the game – bunting, stealing bases and moving runners.
“Now that district play is here, we are much closer to where we want to be as a team. We just need to keep improving at the rate we have so far.”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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