• 48°

MA could benefit from youth at state tourn

The Marengo Academy Lady Longhorns (29-4) will open the next phase of their latest run at a state title Friday at 11:30 a.m. when they take on Crenshaw Academy.

“That’s the same team we opened with last year,” MA head coach Todd Mathis said. And while there is some comfort in familiarity, Mathis is hopeful that this year’s tournament appearance does not mirror its 2009 predecessor entirely.

A season ago, the Lady Longhorns won both their games on the first day before ultimately losing to eventual champion Lakeside twice on Saturday. That was a senior-laden team that entered the bracket as the No. 1 seed, and the top-ranked squad in the state, but seemed to collapse under the pressure of expectation on the draw’s final day.

“I know they will be (relaxed),” Mathis said of his 2010 players. “They are almost too relaxed at times. I’m not saying they don’t want to win as bad as last year’s team, but sometimes I’ve got to threaten them to get them fired up.”

The 2010 version of the Lady Longhorns boast a much younger roster, starting freshmen at short and behind the plate and only consisting of three seniors. That make-up coupled with the loss of three collegiate signees resulted in lowered preseason expectations, something with which Mathis was initially pleased.

“I don’t think the expectations were there at the start of the year for this team,” Mathis said of a perception that rapidly changed when MA was 10-0 and at the top of the first ASWA poll. “I kind of don’t like the role we’re in because we’re not under the radar anymore.”

A big key to the Lady Longhorns’ success has been the dominance of starting pitcher Jessica Brock. The junior has worked to a 21-3 record on the year and given Mathis much reason for confidence. Still, a two-day, eight-team, double-elimination tournament can be taxing if the Lady Longhorns slip up along the way. That would likely mean Mathis would need to turn to freshman hurler Ally Vick.

“I think I can count on her if I need her,” Mathis said of Vick, who has compiled a record of 8-1 through the regular season. “I plan on throwing both of them like I did last year. If we had to have (Vick), she can go.”

Still, the Lady Longhorns are confident in Brock and Mathis believes continued offensive production like he has seen all year from his team will be enough to keep them in the win column.

“If somehow we can put that many (runs) on the board in every game, we’ve got a better than average chance to win the game,” Mathis said. “The way our pitcher is throwing right now, we’d have to give somebody a lot of help to lose the game.”

Remaining unscathed is important for the Lady Longhorns, who would have to play three games on Friday rather than two if they were to lose a contest on the bracket’s first day. Scenarios vary, but an early loss could result in the Lady Longhorns having to play as many as seven games in two days in order to win the state championship. However, moving through the bracket undefeated would mean only four games in two days, a stark difference for any pitching staff.

“It’s critical,” Mathis said of remaining in the winner’s bracket to avoid the need for an extra game. “Most of the teams over there don’t have the pitching depth. If you can force some teams to play an extra game to get back to you,that’s great.”

Marengo Academy opens play against Crenshaw at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Lagoon Park in Montgomery.