They were a part of one of the best high school softball competitions played anywhere, but it doesn’t help the bitter aftertaste of defeat.
The Barbers Hill softball team wrapped up a 39-5 season on the doorstep of a Class 5A state semifinal appearance in Austin this weekend after losing 9-8 to No.1 Angleton in the deciding game of the best-of-three Region 3 Final last Saturday.
As time moves on, the head coach, Aaron Fuller, and departing seniors, Matee Simon, Sydney Hoyt and Rebecca Miller can look back at the season of wonder full of pride and still have a question of what could have been.
“In district or in playoffs, I don’t think we ever reached our full potential, ever,” Miller, a future Pittsburgh Panther, said. “I think our best games were in the pre-district games.”
Hoyt said that her team may be guilty of playing the uniforms and not just softball.
“A lot of our girls knew Liberty and I knew a lot of the girls from Angleton – the good girls play together,” Hoyt said of club softball. “But if you look at a team’s record, it definitely changes your mentality a little bit. I have to work on not caring who we are playing and just playing.”
Fuller noted his team’s victories and close contests against 6A heavies Keller, Katy, Klein Collins and the Woodlands.
Barbers Hill was undefeated against Class 5A competition until losing the two games against Angleton.
“I think the lull of districts kind of hurt us a little bit,” Fuller said. “We had a little bit of complacency. That’s my challenge as a coach: To keep them up playing to the potential and to the level of ability we have.”
Fuller continued with his juggernaut of a pre-district schedule and believed his team was set up for success.
“I always try to stack our pre-district schedule pretty tough,” Fuller said. “In the past it would prepare us for a tough district schedule. This year it was a little different. We had a tough pre-district to give up some competition because we knew our district was going to be pretty weak.”
Fuller said he doesn’t predict the district’s competitive level rising much between now and the beginning of the 2020 season.
Over the course of the final two-plus months of the regular season, Barbers Hill was able to squeeze in a win over Class 4A powers Liberty and 6A heavies Klein Collins, splitting the two contests.
But the lack of District 21-5A competition may have helped cause the team’s feeling of never really hitting its peak this offseason.
“Last year, the district was like the playoffs,” Simon said. “This year it was like, not so much. We often found ourselves going through the motions. We tried to not do that, but it was inevitable.”
Ironically, the not so aesthetically pleasing start to the 2019 playoffs was synonymous with similar slow performances out of the postseason gate from years past.
“The first round, we always let bad teams hang with us and do just enough to win,” Fuller said. “The first couple of rounds we just know we are better than them and we are going to beat them eventually, which is dangerous. If you let teams you are better than hang around, you never know what could happen.
“But as we go further into the playoffs and each game means more and more, we are ready to play. We show up ready to play against good teams.”
The team got more hyped as the tournament got more difficult with wins over Richmond Foster, Friendswood and Georgetown to get to Angleton.
The Friendswood win came thanks to a three-plus hour rain/lightning delay when trailing 1-0. It reminded the girls of their rally from a game down against Elgin in the Region 3 finals the previous season when the Lady Eagles rallied after a long rain delay and won out from there.
Against Angleton, Simon missed a series-winning double by inches and then struck out on a third pitch, later captured on video, being a good foot outside the batters’ box.
“I think the Elgin series was better than the Angleton series, because we won,” Fuller said. “As a viewer, the back-and-forth nature and the competitiveness, both series had to be awesome just to watch as a fan of the sport.
“It’s a game of inches. We were six inches away from going back to Austin and eight-to-12 inches from getting another pitch at least. Even though we didn’t come out on top, we can look back and say that was a fun, competitive series.”
Going forward, the outgoing seniors believe the future Lady Eagles team could come back hungrier, angrier and with a lot to prove.
“I feel the girls are going to take it and run,” Hoyt said. “I’d be scared to go against this team next year. Them getting a taste of that? I wouldn’t want to run into their path next year. It will be unbelievable.”
Fuller sees the emotions of this year’s journey and the excellence they enjoyed can only help going forward even if he loses three key pieces.
“We have coming back, a lot of experience,” Fuller said. “We lost five games, all by a run, all to three teams and all three are playing in Austin this weekend. That’s hard to swallow that we are not there.
Fuller loses the three seniors that provided big bats and solid defense in the infield.
“They will be hard to replace, I don’t know where to begin. We are going to have to have some younger girls step in and fill some shoes. I think we’ll be OK. I don’t know what things will look like yet. I expect to be back here next year competing for a regional championship and a trip to Austin.”
In order to do that, Simon offers some words of wisdom moving forward.
“Play for others, because we came together and really wanted it for the other girls,” Simon said. “I didn’t understand that until the last series. I wanted (teammates) to do good because they are good.”