ELLIS COUNTY — Of the 60 softball players given superlative honors or named to the District 10-5A All-District First, Second or Honorable Mention lists Friday, 17 belonged to Ellis County.
Midlothian, Red Oak and Waxahachie earned almost half of the four Mansfield school (42) and Lancaster High School (1) total.
Fifteen of those 17 will return to the Lady Indians, Hawks and Panthers next season. Midlothian home run hitter and Tarleton State University signee Georgia Capell and Red Oak Lady Hawk-turned-SAGU Lady Lion Morgan Valentino are the only two that will graduate this year.
"It's nice to have the awards but you still have to perform year in and year out," said Steve Howell, the head softball coach at Waxahachie High School. "We look good on paper and we got a lot of seniors coming back but this district is going to be good next season. We are going to go into the off-season, hopefully play some summer ball and come into next season prepared and in good shape so we can start the season hot and end it the same way."
The 2017 Lady Indians finished fifth behind Mansfield Legacy, Midlothian, Mansfield Lake Ridge and Mansfield Summit High Schools.
Capell, the District 10-5A Offensive Player of the Year, had a .578 batting average and 1.089 slugging percentage, five home runs, 24 RBIs and 29 runs scored in 45 at-bats. She beat out Mansfield Timberview High School senior Chelsea Luddeke (.510 BA/11 RBIs/24 runs/22 stolen bases) and Mansfield Lake Ridge and Legacy sophomores Brittni Rufus (.587 BA/5 HRs/12 RBIs/23 runs/24 stolen bases) and Courtney Taylor (.602 BA/5 HRs/28 RBIs/26 runs/7 stolen bases).
Four of his girls — juniors Sharrika Levingston, Addy Redd, Ariana Robles and Talia Salinas — made the All-District Second Team. Sophomore Kaylie Burdine and freshman Lily Graham made the Honorable Mention list. Redd and Robles led the Lady Indians with five home runs each.
Except for Graham, all Waxahachie's selections have at least one year of postseason experience.
Some have two.
Midlothian junior Shelby Noah, who crushed six home runs, drove in 34 runs and earned eye-popping .649 average and 1.297 slugging percentage at the plate in 37 at-bats, won the district MVP award. She edged Mansfield Legacy junior and district pitcher of the year Sophie Hannabas (.659 BA/2 HRs/11 RBIs/30 runs) and Mansfield Lake Ridge senior Brittany Hackson (.575 BA/1 HR/13 RBIs/27 runs/19 stolen bases).
Jackson, a Lady Eagle starting shortstop, was named the district's Defensive Player of the Year.
Ellis County nabbed two of the 16 All-District First Team slots via Midlothian junior Annabel Anderson and freshman Kaylee Hlavaty. Eight of the 20 All-District Second Team selections came via Midlothian junior and sophomore Alexis Perez and Megan Martens, Red Oak junior and sophomore Alexandria Rodriguez and Taniece Tyson and the Waxahachie foursome of Levingston, Redd, Robles and Salinas.
Midlothian, despite the loss of the game-changing power of Capell, has a plethora of weapons to battle the likes of Mansfield Lake Ridge and Legacy next season. Lozoya said their current roster construction puts them in the hunt for a district title next year given this season's awards haul but does not make them an automatic favorite.
"I honestly believe that district next year will be very competitive week in and week out. We should be in the hunt for a district title, but Legacy returns a lot of talent to defend it," Lozoya said about the rough-and-tumble district entering 2018. "Lake Ridge has a lot of skilled youth who has proven they can beat anyone on any day and are looking to build on a solid playoff run and Waxahachie should be excited because they beat us and beat Lake Ridge. Summit, Timberview and Red Oak will have a lot to say about District 10-5A providing exciting softball next season."
Despite playing in her first varsity season, Hlavaty staked her claim as one of the best hitters in the district after batting .405 in 42 at-bats, driving in 11 runs and scoring 22 as the Lady Panthers' two-hole hitter. Anderson, who had a .400 at-the-plate average, three homers, 17 RBIs and scored 14 runs, for wasn't far behind.
"I feel if gives the girls a strong sense of confidence to know that the other district coaches respect and think enough of their game to vote for them," Lozoya continued. "Ultimately, you can't rest on what you've done. If you don't work hard and prepare accordingly to build off a great individual year, you'll be caught being comfortable in a 'what you did' mindset instead of focusing on a 'what you should be doing' frame of thought."
While Midlothian looks to build off a regional quarterfinal berth, Red Oak and its pair of second team selections will look to push the Lady Hawks into the postseason.
Tyson slapped five home run balls over the centerfield fence against Mansfield Summit, Midlothian, North Side and Trinity High Schools, batted .478 in 26 games and 67 at-bats in 2017 and drove in 26 RBIs. Rodriguez, the Lady Hawks' starting shortstop, batted .389 in District 10-5A play and had an on-base percentage of .450.
They could represent a new movement in Red Oak and the rise of a team that could challenge for a playoff berth and possibly more next season.
"Given our growth and some of the awards we got this year, we feel hopeful for the next season," Tyson said. "A lot of that is because of the improvement over the past year. We are still a young team, but I hope this upcoming season we can accomplish more of our team and personal goals — including making a deep run in the playoffs."
Midlothian junior Tatum Sorrels and sophomores Sierra Mihailov and Emily Singleton, Red Oak sophomores Raegan Ferguson and Lacy Weaver and Burdine and Graham from Waxahachie rounded out Ellis County's portion of the 19-girl Honorable Mention list. Graham was responsible for a pair of no-hitters against Lancaster and Singleton hit a home run during game one of the Midlothian-Lake Ridge regional quarterfinal series.
Lozoya said Sorrels might be the best bottom-of-the-order hitter in the district.
Noah, Mansfield Legacy's Utility Player of the Year Courtney Taylor and Hannabas, Mansfield Lake Ridge's Newcomer of the Year Kylah Marzette and Mansfield Legacy Coach of the Year Amie Prater will lead the charge into next season. If North Texas softball fans combine those elements with the bristling talent that lies within Waxahachie's borders, early predictions on which of the eight District 10-5A teams has an advantage may be exactly that — too early.
Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI