Normally, a 10-9 record midway through the high school softball season would be cause for alarm. At Friendswood, he registers only moderate concern.
Eight of the Mustangs’ losses, including six in a row, have come in a nine-game span ending Feb. 25.
“Earlier in the season, we were very shy and a little scared,” said second catcher Charleigh Esparza. “As we moved through the tournaments, we relaxed. Defensively, we’re communicating better and we’ve had smarter plays.
Friendswood’s progression yielded a recent five-game hitting streak, which was ended March 14 by state powerhouse Santa Fe, as they rallied from a 3-0 deficit to clinch a 4-3 win in District 18-5A .
“It was definitely a disappointment to lose after starting the way we did,” said Friendswood junior shortstop Baileigh Burtis. “We did a good job against (Santa Fe pitcher) Sidne Peters, who is a Washington outsourcer. I think we’re just a little down towards the end of the game. Our hits have leveled off and theirs have increased. They just had more energy than us in the end.
Senior pitcher Janelle Wilson knows Friendswood is fully capable of winning the district crown.
“I feel we are playing well but we have to sort out some things,” he said. “We have a lot of talent, but we haven’t played to our full potential yet. It was definitely disappointing to lose to Santa Fe as a pitcher, and as a team, we need to hit the ball better and play better defense.
“I have a decent throw, but I always work on my accuracy, speed and movement. The freshman pitchers and I can each improve.
Friendswood lost to Class 6A powerhouses Katy, Brazoswood, Cedar Ridge, and Alvin as well as suffering setbacks to all-star 5A powerhouses Foster, Santa Fe, and Barbers Hill.
However, Friendswood avenged Katy’s loss to give herself a confidence boost.
“We’re on an uphill climb right now,” Burtis said. “Our defense is much improved compared to the start of the season.
“We are not a team that has to play against each other. We like to exercise every day. I know I can’t wait. When we’re not exercising, we’re out here taking our own cuts.
Esparza knows he has to be strong behind the plate, especially on games that could be one-run affairs.
“I’m more neck-and-neck when runners are on base than I was at the start of the year,” he said. “I am also aware of the plays a team might make. I think I do a great job of blocking and catching the ball. Mainly, I’m just playing a lot smarter.
In a loaded Class 5A region that features the #1 team in the nation, Lake Creek, Friendswood is hoping to evolve into a sleeper playoff team.
“Nellie has it as far as pitching is concerned,” Burtis said of Wilson. “We swing the bat hard. We just have to do a better job of choosing which pitch to hit.
“I hit the lead and feel like it’s my job to keep going, but if I don’t, I’ll be there cheering on whoever’s at the plate. I know we will continue to improve.”