Softball: District rivals face off in region finals

Plano East and Hebron softball will finish a three-game series to decide who goes to state.

This isn’t the typical best-of-three series that many coaches elect to play in the playoffs, it’s simply the third time the two will meet this season after facing each other twice in district play.

“Our district is really one of the hardest districts in the state of Texas,” Hebron coach Staci Jackson said. “It proves it because East has already played Flower Mound, and we’ve already played Plano, and now here we are playing Plano East to go to state. If that doesn’t show you that our district is extremely strong, I don’t know what does.”

Instead of deciding the Class 5A regional final in a best-of-three series, the decision went to a coin toss, which was won by Jackson in favor of a one-and-done game.

Jackson said she believes that this late in the season, a one-game regional final does more to prepare the winning team for the single-elimination state tournament in Austin.

Hebron entered the playoffs as the final seed coming out of District 8-5A but has peaked when it mattered and eliminated two district champions and two runners-up in its journey to the region final.

“In our district, it doesn’t really matter what seed you are,” Jackson said. “As long as you make it in the top four, anything can happen in the postseason.”

Hebron must conquer the challenge of a Plano East team that has dominated the Hawks in their two meetings 8-1 and 11-1 this season.

Defense is Jackson’s key to turning the tables on East, which has made a name for itself this season in its ability to generate offense in many different ways.

Jackson said her team’s ability is there to create a different result, so the trip to Austin might come down to the team with the better focus on defense.

“It might be the first team that makes a mistake that loses,” Jackson said.

Forney eyes return bid to state tournament

Forney surprised many last season by not only making the state tournament, but also advancing to the Class 4A state final, only to lose 10-3 to Santa Fe.

Because of that success, it’s no secret anymore that the Jackrabbits can play some ball.

However, Forney again reaches the regional finals as an underdog to its own district 15-4A champion Ennis, who beat Forney twice in district play.

“My girls came out of both games thinking we should have had a good shot at it,” Forney coach Eric Montgomery said. “My girls are not overly confident, but they are confident that they can perform well this weekend.”

Forney graduated threes seniors since last season’s state tournament campaign, including starting pitcher Macie Tillery, but the tandem of Danielle Najera and Allison Brown has stepped in seamlessly, offering two contrasting looks to opposing hitters.

Montgomery wanted a best-of-three series and ended up winning the toss. He said he believes multiple games will allow his hitters time to figure out Ennis’ pitching.

“I’m hoping that over a three-game series that my girls will be able to figure them out,” Montgomery said. “The ability to change up pitchers will be able to keep them off-balance hopefully because they are a pretty good hitting team as well.”