Focus is key for MA ladies

Published 11:16 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Todd Mathis is not comfortable. His Lady Longhorns have won six straight games since an April 4 loss to Hooper. They have outscored their opponents 68-8 over that stretch en route to rounding out their season with a 25-1 record.

Still, the Marengo Academy head coach probably will not rest all that well in the coming nights.

“It is almost bad in a way to realize that it is almost over with,” Mathis said of his run alongside a collection of seniors with whom he has worked for more than six years. “I’m trying to just keep them focused. If they keep their emotions in check and their nerves in check, I feel very good.”

Emotions played a role in MA’s trip to the state tournament in 2008. After entering the bracket as the No. 1 seed and romping through the semis, the Lady Longhorns ran into a series of controversial calls against Lowndes Academy in the finals. The squad’s frustrations became visible and the team ultimately watched its state title dreams fall short on the field at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park.

“They look a little better than in years past,” Mathis said. “If they just relax and play ball, I’ll be satisfied. I think they are doing it, but you don’t ever know until you get there.”

This season, the Lady Longhorns are the clear favorite heading into Friday’s action. The No. 1 team in the AISA, Marengo has outscored opponents 225-27 this season. That run has included contests against traditional AAA powers Tuscaloosa Academy, Macon-East Montgomery Academy and the AISA’s No. 5 team, Clarke Prep.

“I definitely feel like we’re better prepared now than we were last year,” Mathis said. “Going out and seeking the toughest competition we could find has helped us.”

During that stretch, senior hurler Michelle Pritchett has gone 18-1 with a 0.69 ERA. She has limited opponents to 29 walks while striking out 153 batters.

After pitching the 2008 tournament as the Lady Longhorns’ No. 2 starter, Pritchett will now be called upon to shoulder the majority of the load as the team looks to complete its quest for the elusive state title in 2009.

“I think mentally she’s ready to do it,” Mathis said. “I feel like we’re fine in that aspect. She knows I’m going to ride her as long as we can.”

Should the MA bats remain as productive as they have all season, Pritchett may be granted shorter outings as Mathis looks to utilize sophomore Jessica Brock in a relief role.

“We will try to throw them both in the first game to save (Pritchett’s arm),” Mathis said. “It all depends on what we do offensively.”

The Longhorn ladies open play Friday at 11:30 a.m. against Crenshaw Christian. A win in the opener will advance the team to a 3 p.m. rendezvous with the winner of the contest between defending state champion Lowndes Academy and No. 8 Edgewood Academy. A loss means the MA girls will turn around and play immediately following their first game.

Play in both the winners’ and losers’ brackets will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday.