Aggies enter Lone Star softball tourney Friday
When the Lone Star Conference softball tournament opens Friday, there should be some dandy competition and Cameron University coach Dennis Furr is confident his team will be right there ready for any challenge the Aggies face.
It is common knowledge that Lone Star Conference softball is as good as there is in NCAA Division II ranks but Furr is willing to take it another step.
"I really think the conference tournament is as tough as the world series; that's how good this league is," Furr said. "There aren't many conferences that can send as many good teams out there on the field as the Lone Star. Every team in this conference tournament has quality pitching, strong defense and great hitters.
"But I think we are playing as well as anyone and we can beat anyone if we play like we're capable of playing. I do feel we have the toughest side of the bracket because right now Angelo (State) and Tarleton are really playing well. But we've taken games from both of them and we've also gotten some really big road wins."
The competition begins at 11 a.m. Friday when Texas A&M-Commerce and Texas A&M-Kingsville collide. Then Cameron takes the field to battle Tarleton State at 1:30 p.m.
The semifinals will begin at 4 p.m. with No. 2 seeded West Texas meeting the Commerce-Kingsville winner. The other semifinal matches top-seeded Angelo State against the Cameron-Tarleton winner at 6:30 p.m.
Cameron and Tarleton played their three-game series in Stephenville and the TexAnns won two of the three games, taking a 5-1 victory in the opener when the Aggies could muster just two hits.
When the teams met for a doubleheader the second day of the series, Cameron played better but still lost by a 6-4 score.
However, when they got to the finale of the three-game set, Cameron finally got adjusted to the TSU pitcher and pounded out 10 hits from seven different Aggie batters. The result was a 9-1 victory.
And CU got solid pitching in that game as Rylee Willmon pitched a four-hit gem, allowing the one earned run.
Willmon, a native of Luther who came to CU from Northeastern A&M, rates as one of surprises on the team but Furr said she's not the only one.
"There's no doubt that Rylee has been a surprise to some extent but I knew she could help us in the circle when I first saw her," Furr said. "She and Beth (Bethany Hines) really compliment each other. Both of them have really improved over the season and have worked hard to improve all their pitches."
Furr said finding a surprise on the offensive side is tough because several players have stepped up big at the plate.
"Annie Combs has really had a great year at the plate and in the field," Furr said. "She's been consistent on offense and in the field playing defense. And lately she's been one of the players who's really stepped up in the leadership role. We've had several players who came to the front and helped be leaders."
One player who is no surprise in anything she does is Brenna Busby, one of the top players in the league. While Busby will definitely get votes as the league's MVP, Furr said it's going to be tough for anyone to win the honor in the rugged league.
"Brenna is really an amazing player and the one who does so many things for our club," Furr said. "She's having an unbelievable offensive season, she's a great leader and plays super defensively. The problem is that there are some other great players in the Lone Star.
"The Jameyson (Mariah from A&M-Commerce) girl is having an amazing season and she's going to win the MVP honor. I just can't think of anyone who's done what she's accomplished this season."
Jameyson, a senior catcher from Seattle, Wash., is hitting .542 with a league-high 22 home runs and she's driven in 149 runs, also a Lone Star high. In fact, she's leading in six offensive categories heading into the conference tournament.
There are other great players in the league and Furr says facing those great players and teams helps the other teams improve. And in the case of the Aggies, their late-season loaded schedule should help them when the tournament opens.
"I've always been one to schedule tough opponents," Furr said. "The tougher the competition the sharper you get. It gets you more prepared if you're playing quality competition all the time. If you're playing lesser competition to pad your record, that's something that can come back and bite you in the playoffs."