As the trio of freshmen were going through their junior high seasons, they could look ahead and see both ends of the softball spectrum.
When they were seventh-graders, Ashlinn Hamilton, Jewel Hiberd and Hannah Grinspan watched Denison win the district championship.
When they were eighth-graders, they watched the Lady Yellow Jackets finish in last place.
All three immediately jumped into the starting lineup this spring — Hamilton at pitcher, Hiberd at third base or catcher and Grinspan at shortstop or second base — and combined with the holdovers in the batting order determined to avoid a repeat of 2018, the Lady Jackets started winning right from the beginning.
They had already won more games by the second week of the season than all of last year and ended district play with the program’s most victories since 2013.
“They have embraced the family atmosphere. Every single one of them is having fun,” Denison head coach Jeremy Green said. “The two things I’ve reiterated to them is enjoy it because it’s never guaranteed to you again. And don’t walk away with any regrets. Make these the best games.”
Denison spent all of the 10-5A schedule in position to make the playoffs, settling into third place. Now the young Lady Jackets get a taste of another new experience as Denison (17-11) faces Frisco Centennial (16-6) in a Class 5A Region II bi-district series.
Game 1 will be at Centennial at 7 p.m. on Wednesday; Game 2 will be at Denison at 7 p.m. on Thursday and a third game, if necessary, will be at 7 p.m. on Friday at Anna.
Hamilton leads the team with a .527 average and 31 RBI while Grinspan is at .355 with 23 RBI and second on the team with 25 runs and Hiberd is right behind her at .348 with 19 RBI.
They have complimented the returning starters, including a couple who were a part of that district title-winning team two years ago.
“There’s not a single girl out there I’m not extremely proud of,” Green said. “They have all played a part. They show up every day, deal with me every day, which is not easy. Hard work pays off and they deserve this.”
Junior Elizabeth Linwood is batting .442 with eight home runs, 30 RBI and scored 37 times while classmate Jaci Garvin is at .338. Sophomore Madison Carter is hitting .350 and is third on the team with 24 RBI, making two-thirds of the lineup batting .330 or better.
“I think it goes to the standpoint of what I wanted to happen in January isn’t what has happened now,” Green said. “If you don’t make changes, we’re not sitting here right now. Our season is over.”
The teams are a little familiar with each other as they played a scrimmage a week before the season started and Centennial had a 7-5 walk-off victory in four innings.
“Everybody’s different from January, February and even March. We’re not the same either,” Green said. “I think we match up very well. They’re similar to us in that they have solid pitching, solid defense and they live on the long ball.”
Frisco Centennial was the runner-up in 9-5A but had a chance at the district championship going into the final game of the regular season. The Lady Titans lost against Frisco Independence, 6-2, to give the Lady Knights the top seed for the playoffs.
Because they are in such a large district, nearly all of the Lady Titans’ games were against Frisco ISD schools as Centennial was 14-4 in 9-5A play.
There were just four non-district opponents and one of them was Denison’s districtmate Wylie East, which earned a 5-4 victory in Centennial’s third game of the season.
The Lady Titans also lost to Forney and beat Hebron and Richardson Pearce before getting into their district schedule, where they were beaten by Independence, Reedy, Wakeland and Lone Star.
If there is a common denominator in the losses, all but one of them — Wylie East — were by at least three runs and the opponent scored at least five runs every time.
At the plate, the top five hitters are either freshmen or seniors. Daniela Arellanes, a freshman, leads the way at .460 but Alexis Pope is right behind at .456 with four homers and a team-best 32 RBI. Two ninth-graders follow — Tatum Wright with a .433 average, six homers and 27 RBI and Alexandra Byrd is batting .429 with six homers and 30 RBI. Katie Walsh rounds out the group at .424 with seven homers and 30 RBI.
In the circle, the Lady Titans have been splitting innings between senior Guliette Arellanes and Byrd with Byrd holding the slight edge at 63.2 to 46.
“Whomever it is, we have a game plan,” Green said.