CHRIS JENNINGS/HERALD DEMOCRAT
Third baseman Monica Eslick leads the Lady Jackets with 21 RBI. Denison opens 13-4A play Tuesday.
A strong finish to last year that resulted in a playoff berth has carried over to the Denison softball team’s non-district showing this season.
With so many pieces to the lineup returning, the Lady Yellow Jackets have gotten off to a fast start they hope continues in district contests.
“This group of girls has great chemistry together,” Denison head coach Ashli Wigington said. “The little taste of the playoffs last year set the tone for this year.”
The first step to a repeat postseason appearance starts tonight as Denison (12-3-2) opens District 13-4A play at 7:30 p.m. at Wylie East.
“We’ve really clicked as a team from the start,” junior third baseman Monica Eslick said. “We know how to push each other’s limits. I think we feed off each other’s hits. It goes all the way through the lineup.”
In 17 games this season, Denison has been held below three runs just twice and sports a team batting average of .362. Senior shortstop Mariaha Scally is hitting .489 and is one of five Lady Jackets — Alicia Tanguma (.436), Shelby Lindsey (.421), Eslick (.420) and Dee Harris (.417) — hitting better than .400. Senior outfielder Alex Eichler isn’t far off at .389.
“The consistency has been better. All around,” Wigington said. “It helps to be firing on all cylinders.”
Six members of the lineup have double-digit RBI, led by Eslick’s 21, and eight Lady Jackets have scored double-digit runs. Eichler, Eslick, Scally and Hailey Jackson all have more walks than strikeouts.
“We have several combinations we can use,” Wigington said. “It’s good 1-through-9 to be dangerous at any position.”
Denison made the playoffs for the first time in six years last spring with a fourth-place finish and is off to a start that has the Lady Jackets thinking anything else than repeat trip would be a disappointment.
At this time last season Denison had just five victories — this year’s team has already surpassed the entire 2012 win total of 11.
“We work really well as a team. We have a lot of confidence. I think we can go deeper in the playoffs,” Lindsey said. “We all do our job. It’s a chain reaction and it keeps going.”
Denison has settled on an outfield of Eichler, Tanguma and Harris while using Jackson at four different positions — first, catcher, right field and designated player.
“She has been the ultimate team player. Offensively she has to be in the lineup,” Wigington said. “We’re not going to miss a beat with her wherever she is defensively.”
Sophomores Hailey Nipper and Bailey Nixon have shared time in the circle and both have had success leading up to district games.
“They’ve both seen time,” Wigington said. “We want to get there and see what they look like before making a decision.”
The Lady Jackets have been the runner-up at both the Whitesboro and Bonham Tournaments during non-district action. Denison has lost to Aubrey, Whitewright and Frisco Lone Star while tying Celina and Frisco Centennial at the Prosper Tournament.
District 13-4A has a different look to it following the latest realignment. Joining holdovers Denison, Sherman, Greenville and Royse City are McKinney North, Royse City, Wylie and Wylie East.
Last season Sherman won the district title while Lovejoy, McKinney North and Wylie joined Denison as playoff teams. Wylie made it to the third round and Lovejoy was a region quarterfinalist in 3A.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time,” Wigington said. “If we take care of our business, we produce offensively like we’re capable of, then we should be able to beat anyone on any given day.”