Power Panthers: St. Pius X softball posts undefeated district mark
HOUSTON – St. Pius X softball has that swagger.
The Panthers wrapped up an undefeated district season on Tuesday night, defeating St. John XXIII 25-0, to go 10-0 and secure a home playoff game. It is also the first district crown for the program since 2015.
"When I came here and introduced to the team in 2020 [as an assistant], the one thing that was unexpected was that they had so many good athletes in one spot," St. Pius X first-year coach Rodney Smith said. "The expectation of winning should have been there already because these ladies were ready to play.
"We just had to put together a plan to put them in a position to win."
For 18 years prior to St. Pius X, Smith was a head coach at KIPP Houston and then made the move over to SPX last spring as an assistant.
When the Panthers needed a head coach this year, Smith was right there.
"[Jeff Feller] knew what my expectations were as far as coaching was concerned," Smith said. "This was a great move for me and it opened up at the right time when I came on."
Early in this season, St. Pius X took some losses to El Campo, perennial power Fort Bend Christian Academy, A&M Consolidated and Kinkaid.
After their final tournament of the year, which they struggled in, losing four of their five games, Smith said they had some "spirited" conversations.
Whatever he said worked.
Since March 23, the Panthers posted an 11-1 record, including a come-from-behind win over St. Agnes Academy.
"After a few spirited conversations in the huddles we understood that we were just as good, if not better," Smith said about the game against St. Agnes which they trailed 3-1 in after the third inning. "They picked up the pace, played better, and pulled the win out. After that it's history. They've played well ever since."
The Panthers in that game ended up outscoring St. Agnes 8-1 the rest of the way to win 9-4, which Smith considered a turning point for the season.
In district play, St. Pius X outscored foes 147-13 winning games by scores of 15-0, 18-0, 20-3, and 25-0. Absolute domination.
Undefeated District Champs!💪🏼10-0! 🧡🐾#Dawgspic.twitter.com/3BgZqegspj
— St. Pius X Softball (@PiusXSoftball) April 27, 2021
So, what makes this team go?
It all starts with UTSA signee Emily Dear, who has done it all for the Panthers in 2021 from the circle to at the plate.
Dear is the ace of the staff, posting a 13-4 record with seven complete games, four no-hitters, three perfect games with 116 strikeouts in 97 2/3 innings. She has also hit .667 at the dish with nine home runs, seven triples, six doubles and driven in 40 runs. In district play, Dear hit .733 with 19 RBIs in 10 games.
"She's our team captain and there's no bigger player in our program than Emily Dear," Smith said. "She pitches, she deals, she steps up to the plate and swings the bat really well. I can't recall not one time that I've seen her be negative. She always has a smile on her face, she approaches every game, every batter, every at-bat the same way. She's just a special kid."
Another big bat has been sophomore Victoria Hunter.
Hunter in 27 games has hit .646 with a team-leading 11 home runs and 49 RBIs. Her slugging percentage is also 1.384 with a .750 on-base percentage. In district play, Hunter hit for .652 with 18 RBIs and a team-leading five home runs.
But it's not her astronomical, video-game numbers that Smith raves about when speaking of Hunter, it's her leadership. As a sophomore.
"Victoria Hunter is a real good leader," Smith said. "She has the ability to pick other players up and help them perform better. Sometimes she even reaches over and makes play that creates confidence for other players that allows them to make plays."
Other key players for the Panthers have been Olivia McGee (.322, 22 RBIs) at first base, Jennifer Schmalz (.338, 28 RBIs) behind the plate and their outfield trip of Brooke Landry (.423, 12 RBIs), Lora Tresco (.432, 9 RBIs) and Alexis McGregor (.422, 10 RBIs).
So, now with the regular season in the books, posting an overall record of 18-9 and outscoring opponents 264-11, what can the Panthers do in the playoffs?
"When you approach playoff games it is a different environment," Smith said. "Hopefully, they'll be able to let their games rise up and we will be able to compete well and well enough to produce some positive outcomes."