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Mid-County Madness takes on Strike Out Cancer game

What was true almost a month ago still stands. The second round of Port Neches-Groves softball with Nederland will be a battle of playoff contenders. That race just looks a little different than it did in the first meeting.

The playoffs won’t be the biggest storyline in Saturday’s third annual Strike Out Cancer game, though. That would go to the cause itself the two teams will be playing for, followed by Nederland’s hot streak and recent coaching change.

It may not have been the easiest week for new interim head coach Monte Barrow, but he said it’s certainly been fun. Barrow, who also serves as the football offensive coordinator, found out about his new appointment on Tuesday, went through a practice with his new team and then found out the district had voted to move up Friday’s games to Wednesday.

“It’s been a full and fun week,” Barrow said. “There hasn’t been a lot of time to think. I told the girls just to go out and have fun. Against Vidor, they supported each other so much, it was a great in for them.”

Barrow had previously been the head softball coach back in 1997 and 1998. His second year with the program, he guided the Lady Bulldogs to the second postseason appearance in school history and the first trip to the state playoffs.

That season, the Lady Bulldogs took second place in District 20-4A, beating La Marque in the regional finals to reach the state tournament in Austin. Nederland lost to Keller Ridge 4-2 that season.

“That was a young team, with a lot of freshman starting,” Barrow said. “They just got better and better as the year went on. They ended up going to Austin in a really fun ride for all of us.”

Barrow will remain the interim head coach until this season is over, at which time the Nederland administration will reevaluate the situation.

Nederland’s schedule this week hasn’t been the easiest gauntlet for Barrow to be thrown into. After beating district leader Vidor on Wednesday, the Lady Bulldogs (13-6, 5-3) will host a PN-G (12-5, 5-3) team that beat them 9-5 earlier this season.

Since that game, Nederland has only lost once in its last six contests. The Lady Bulldogs have been especially good defensively, allowing just two runs per game to score. That stinginess has been both a credit to pitchers like MaKayla Kelly and to the great defense behind her.

The Lady Bulldogs will need to bring some of that against the Lady Indians, because PN-G has been very strong on the offensive side this season. PN-G has scored at least seven runs in five of the eight district games this season. Over that stretch, PN-G is averaging exactly seven runs per game.

“Everyone has stepped up, ” PN-G head coach Brook Fontenot said. “With all the different contributors on this team, (the offense) has been a nice surprise. The girls are all just coming through when the opportunity presents itself. I ask them, ‘Who will step up today?’ They really take pride in doing just that.”

PN-G is coming off a couple of high-profile losses, though, dropping two of its last three games. The first one came in a 4-1 loss to Vidor at The Reservation before the Indians dropped another home game to Livingston last Wednesday. In fact, in PN-G’s three losses this season, it’s scored just six total runs.

Part of that is how teams have attacked middle-of-the-order hitter Paige Schexnider. The third baseman hit a home run against Nederland in the first game and hit a long double against Vidor. Against the Lady Bulldogs, Schexnider went 3 for 3 with a double and that HR, but against Vidor, she walked in both of her next plate appearances.

“I haven’t really noticed teams pitching around her,” Fontenot said. “She’s just a competitor. She’s going to fight tooth and nail to get on base however she can.”

That meant the Lady Lions swept the Lady Indians this season, an important factor in the coming playoff race. Nederland, PN-G and Livingston are all tied with 5-3 records, sitting a game behind both Little Cypress-Mauriceville and Vidor for second place in 20-4A.

Still, the goal of Saturday’s event will be to focus on something bigger than one district game. While both teams will be trying to win, the money they raise for cancer research and treatment and the awareness that an event like this will raise are the main goals.

“This is such a great opportunity to teach these girls something bigger than softball,” Fontenot said. “They’re helping out other people who are struggling. The juniors and seniors that have been here for all three of these games have raised over $20,000 in the last three years. This kind of community service is a great experience for them.”