Lake Highlands racks up run-rule softball wins

Now that the Dallas Mavericks have raised a championship banner in American Airlines Center, the "one-and-done" label in Dallas could be passed on to the Lake Highlands softball team.

The last two years, the Lady Wildcats saw their season end in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of Sachse after taking either first or second place in their district.

And with five freshmen penciled into her starting lineup card, there was no reason for coach Kelly Baker to expect significantly better results as the 2012 season began.

But three-quarters of they way through the schedule, the Lady Cats have separated themselves as one of the top teams in the area with a 15-0 record.

“We have a lot more talent than we’ve had in the past and we’ve meshed together, spending time on and off the field working hard,” senior pitcher Erin Brennan said. “Everything just kind of falls together perfectly.”

"Perfectly" might be an understatement.

As if an unbeaten record isn't impressive enough, Lake Highlands has stopped all but two games early because of the run rule. The Lady Cats have played just 57 innings in their first 15 games, well short of the 105 that would have been played had every game gone the regulation seven innings.

Games are stopped early when a lead is 10 runs or more after five innings or 15 runs or more after three innings, and time limits can shorten contests during tournaments.

Of Lake Highlands' two full seven-inning games, only one was competitive, a 4-1 tournament win over DeSoto. The other was a 10-1 victory over District 9-5A rival Richardson Berkner.

What is the formula for Lake Highlands' success? As a team, the Lady Cats are pounding out a .521 batting average, a .645 on-base percentage and a .673 slugging percentage. Five players are hitting higher than .600, two others are above .500, and three more are above .400. Baker's aggressive base-running philosophy has worked to near perfection as her team has swiped 93 bases in 96 attempts.

Add to that Brennan’s near perfect ERA for the season, a microscopic 0.37 from three earned runs, and you have the makings of a team primed for a deep playoff run.

However, question marks still remain as Lake Highlands hopes to break its one-and-done trend.

All the innings lost because of run-rule victories could have been used to get extra repetitions playing at game speed, which can't be duplicated during practice. Also, conditioning could be an issue for the Lady Cats when they face longer games, and they aren't accustomed to the pressure and strategic changes that come in the late innings of close contests.

“I do see us struggling maybe around the fifth inning when it gets time for playoffs just because we don’t make it that far,” Baker said. “Also, I think it’s going to be different because we’re going to see different competition. They’re so used to scoring so early and so many runs that that’s the mental side of things we’re going to have to work on.”

Brennan and the rest of the squad do their best to make up for the lost innings and take care of the things they can control.

“I make sure I do my running off the field and make sure I keep myself in shape,” said Brennan, who added that she's familiar with players on other top teams through summer-league play.

The Lady Cats have about three weeks of regular-season games left to fine tune and set themselves up for what will hopefully be a memorable playoff journey.

“If we continue to play and get better, the way we’ve been playing, I think we could go pretty deep,” Brennan said.