The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Nederland is hoping that the third time is the charm…again.
After being eliminated by Montgomery in the two previous playoffs, the Nederland softball team finally topped the Lady Bears last week in a three-game series.
Now, the Lady Bulldogs will face District 20-4A champ Little Cypress-Mauriceville in a one-game series at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Port Arthur Memorial’s softball field. That game time has been moved up due to possible rain in the forecast.
That means Nederland will be playing LC-M for a third and final time this season. The Lady Bears beat Nederland twice in the regular season, as LC-M sprinted to the district title. Both losses to LC-M were the first of two straight for Nederland, who got swept by Port Neches-Groves in the follow-up games.
Nederland had a lead in the second matchup with LC-M until the late innings, when Lady Bear third baseman Taylor Fraccastoro hit a home run to key the LC-M comeback.
It’s not the LC-M offense that Nederland has to worry about most, though Fraccastoro has been one of the most prolific power hitters in the area this season.
No, the biggest road block keeping Nederland from the fourth round of the playoffs will be LC-M pitcher Raven Cole. Cole may be the best pitcher in the area and Nederland will need to get to her early and often if it has any hope of pulling off the victory.
Take, for example, PN-G’s second game against the Lady Bears at the Reservation. The Lady Indians jumped out to an early 4-0 lead off Cole, forcing the right-hander from the game early. Ultimately, PN-G couldn’t stave off a late LC-M rally, but it does provide Nederland with a blueprint for the win.
The same thing happened to end the season in LC-M’s only district loss. With the 20-4A title sewn up, the Lady Bears fell to Vidor, who needed the victory to avoid being the fourth seed. Vidor won the game but still ended up as the fourth seed.
Nederland has certainly scored enough runs lately to be up to the task of knocking out Cole. Over the last seven games, the Lady Bulldogs are averaging 10.2 runs per game. That includes hanging 12 on Montgomery in the clinching game of the area round series.
Leading the way offensively have been a number of players. Tori Cooper has been great since settling into the leadoff spot, while Jensen Richard, Kelsey Beard and Jenny Freeman all add punch in the middle of the order.
However, the dangerous thing about Nederland’s lineup is how balanced it is. Head coach Will Mallette isn’t afraid to ask any of his hitters to lay down a bunt and almost every hitter is also a threat to take one deep.
Of course, runs are not the only issue, as probable starting pitcher MaKayla Kelly will need to be as dominant as she’s been at times this year to hold off the Lady Bears. Since shutting out Beaumont Ozen, Livingston and Beaumont Central in three consecutive games, the Nederland pitching staff has given up 12 runs in the last four games.