Being the best has driven the Barbers Hill softball team to push this preseason to make sure they can leap to the top of the Class 5A mountain in June.
A season removed from a dramatic best-of-three loss to eventual state champion Angleton in the Region 3 final, the Lady Eagles hope to change that narrative. Bringing a battalion of arms in the circle and a barrage of able bats, sixth-year head coach Aaron Fuller will see his team kickstart a new campaign 5 p.m. today at Fort Bend Christian.
Aiming for better than 39-5 and an unbeaten District 21-5A title is not negotiable. “The team is looking good so far,” Fuller said. “With another year of experience, we’re hoping we can get over the hump and get the job done in Austin this year. We lost some offensive production, so we’ll have to try to replace that, but our pitching and defense will be very solid.
“Our goal is to win a state championship.”
The staff is represented by Jessica Mullins (Texas State signee) and Division I commitments Samantha Landry, Sophia Simpson, Faith Guidry and Kaitlyn Dutton. Then the lineup is chock full of experienced talent including senior Lamar signee Hayley Freudenberg, Amber Thibodeaux, Stephanie Niemann, Estela Garza, Kaylee Hornberger and Summer Gigout.
Each player carries the memory of last year’s playoff loss which has pushed the girls this year.
“You need to have those kinds of losses to make you better,” Mullins said. “You need to have difficulties in any type of game play to make your mental and physical game better. It gave us hunger.”
The junior Thibodeaux will step up to fill the big leadoff shoes of graduated Matee Simon, who was an elite table setter at the top of the lineup. She notes the Angleton loss gave the girls more purpose.
“It was so much fun, but so frustrating at the same time,” Thibodeaux said. “This year, we want what’s best for each other. Sometimes, we get mad at each other, but deep down we know they want us to be better.”
Simon also wanted the best for Thibodeaux who hopes to do well by her mentor. “Senior Night last year she came up to me and told me I deserved her spot for ‘next year,’” Thibodeaux said. “After that I understood I had a job to do.”
The team felt that a weak district slate may have slowed their competitive mojo coming out of last year’s challenging preseason and dialed them down a bit intensity-wise for the postseason. That is expected to be resolved this spring.
“We have five Division I pitchers,” Freudenberg said. “We have been doing more intrasquading so we are going to be seeing the kind of pitching we will be seeing, every day. Everyone could throw an inning and we would be great. “What happened last year is making us a better team.”
Mullins appreciates the depth of the pitching staff, noting the improved play of Guidry and citing the reliable firepower of Simpson and Landry and Dutton’s craftiness while also offering top-level play in centerfield.
“I like that we can all count on each other,” Mullins said. Freudenberg offers a potential bomb during each at bat, while Stephanie Niemann and Kaylee Hornberger return after playing big offensive roles during the playoff run a year ago. It adds up to big winning, but for seniors like Mullins and Freudenberg the hope is the feeling of having left something on the table is one that doesn’t linger win or lose.
“We are always going to feel like we failed at something if we don’t reach the top and could have done something differently,” Mullins said. “I don’t think we would have overall failed. We would just be unsatisfied.”