Under direction of new head coach rebuilding softball program, Meridian Lady Jackets struggle through 2023 campaign as District 12-2A/1A diamonds in the rough
Fielding a young team with a mix of experience, Meridian Lady Jacket softball hoped to transform from a diamond in the rough to a true gem under the guidance of a new head coach during the course of the 2023 Texas high school softball season.
With only two games remaining in the regular season, the Lady Jackets remain an work in progress after getting a late start due to the extended success of the Meridian girls basketball team. But with only one non-district game under their belts, the Lady Jackets won their District 12-1A opener over Itasca, 19-9, at home on March 1. Since then, though, Meridian has dropped nine straight games.
“Our first win for the season was really great,” said Meridian softball head coach Keandria Taylor in her first head coaching job after stint at Hillsboro ISD as a junior high basketball and track coach. “The girls took what we needed to work on in practice and put them together for the game for us to pull out the win.”
In a wild season opener, the Lady Jackets (1-9 in district, 1-10 overall) came out on the short end in a slugfest against Gholson, 43-36, as both teams combined for 40 hits and 49 walks. Despite struggling on the mound, Mariana Paniagua led the Meridian with five hits and seven runs batted in on three doubles.
“The Ghoslon game was our first game for the season,” Taylor said. “The girls played well, but I mean, there were so many factors into that game. It was cold weather that they aren’t used to playing in yet, and also the game was four hours long.”
Continuing their scoring spree against Itasca, the Lady Jackets slapped 13 hits and drew 17 walks to run rule the Lady Wampus Cats at home on March 1. Courtney Lunsford and Paniagua collected three hits each while Paniagua led Meridian with four runs scored. But since then, Meridian closed out the first round of district competition with five consecutive losses to Rio Vista, 17-1, Hico, 24-0, Jonesboro, 20-4, Hamilton, 15-9, and Blum, 15-0.
“I honestly feel like the start of the season was a slow start with us not having a preseason,” Taylor said. “But our team goal is to have a better mindset going into the second round.”
Unfortunately for the Lady Jackets, the same stumbling blocks continued to manifest themselves as the second round of district progressed with fielding errors and struggling to throw strikes leading to four more losses.
In a wild, high-scoring matchup, Itasca managed to avenge its earlier district loss by handing Meridian a five-inning 32-22 run-rule loss March 28. With the Lady Wampus Cats clawing their way to a 16-15 lead after only two innings, Meridian scored three runs in the top of the third to grab the lead. But it proved to be short-lived as Itasca put up nine runs in the bottom of the third and seven more in the four to take control of the game.
At the plate, Canyon Stauffer led the Lady Jackets by going four-for-four with two doubles and a triple to score four runs and drive in four more, while Mariana Paniagua also went four-for-four with two doubles, scoring three runs and driving in three. Kayla Rosas and Eve Dirkse also knocked in three runs apiece, while Journey Stauffer scored four runs.
Losing four straight games to open the second round of district, the Lady Jackets struggled to be competitive in losses at the hands of Rio Vista, 23-4, Hico, 20-0, and Hamilton, 21-4. With just two more games remaining in the regular season, Meridian hits the road to take on Jonesboro at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday before hosting Blum at 5:30 p.m. Friday for Senior Night in the season finale.
Despite knowing the struggles her team has experience during her first season as head coach, Keandria Taylor remains excited about coaching in Meridian, along with her twin sister, Lady Jacket track head coach Teandria Taylor.
“I get to coach alongside my twin sister for the first time,” Taylor said. “But my experience here at Meridian has been amazing from the staff, students, and the community here. They are so welcoming.”
Photos by WENDY OROZCO
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