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No. 1 state-ranked Lake Creek is 37-0 and back in the Class 5A Region III finals for a second straight season after finishing off a regional semifinal sweep of Friendswood with a 10-0 win in six innings in Game 2 on Thursday at Tompkins High in Katy.
KATY—All along this season, Lake Creek’s softball players knew what they had to do.
Last year’s regional finals loss to Barbers Hill left a bitter taste. The Lions said they had unfinished business this year. They said they had to take it one game at a time.
So, perhaps the biggest difference in this year’s Lions and last year’s is that they are doing what they say they intend to do. They spoke it into existence. And it’s because of turning words into actions that Lake Creek is laser-focused and set that this year’s regional finals trip will turn out more pleasantly.
Lake Creek took care of business Thursday evening, finishing off Friendswood, 10-0 in six innings, to sweep the regional semis at Tompkins High School. The Lions are 37-0, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 2 in the nation.
.@LakeCreek_SB wins 10-0 in six. Back to the regional final for the second straight year. State\u2019s #1 team and nation\u2019s #2 is 37-0. @LakeCreekHS @TexHSSoftball @TXPrepSoftballpic.twitter.com/M1uQIBnp1w — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
But they were undefeated, too, when they went into last year’s fifth round. The feeling, though, is this is not that team.
“It’s very exciting,” said junior ace Ava Brown, who went 4-for-6 with four RBIs in the series, threw a complete-game shutout in Game 1 and followed with a scoreless three innings of relief in Game 2. “Obviously our goal is always one game at a time. But we know where we ended last year isn’t where we want to end it this year.
“We know what happened last year. We were a little complacent, undefeated, and this year it’s not about going to round five. It’s about playing the next game.”
Lake Creek was dominant against a tough Friendswood (30-9) team, outscoring the Mustangs 18-0. The Lions hit .451 and struck out just four times in 51 at-bats. They held the Mustangs to 10 total hits in the two games, and almost as many strikeouts (six).
“We had a game plan against Friendswood, and we executed both games,” coach Michelle Rochinski said. “They were phenomenal picking up on the defensive situations, baserunning. They executed both games perfect.”
.@LakeCreek_SB junior @avajbrownn discusses the Lions\u2019 regional semifinal sweep of Friendswood following tonight\u2019s 10-0 win and advancing to the 5A regional finals for the second straight year. Brown went 4-6 with four RBIs in the series. @LakeCreekHS @TXPrepSoftballpic.twitter.com/jDWNQyuAjS — VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston)
The Lions are ridiculously talented. That much is certain with four NCAA Division I commits. But what they’ve proven is they are as rich in depth as they are in sheer ability.
Brown, junior Maddie McKee (4-for-7, RBI) and senior Madelyn Lopez (2-for-5, four RBIs) were the usual prolific producers in the series. But others have emerged, such as sophomore Carmen Uribe (5-for-6, two RBIs), junior Madison Johnson (no runs on four hits in three innings in a Game 2 start) and junior Payton Bauer (two RBIs).
“I see them picking each other up,” Rochinski said. “We’re not relying on one or two people. It’s a full team effort. Everybody is going to have an off day or an off series. We talk about being perfect, but we know in the real world we’re not going to be perfect. It’s knowing the next person is going to pick us up. That’s one thing I love about this team. They’re there for each other, battling for each other.”
Bauer has been one of those consistent battlers at the bottom of the order. She entered the series hitting .354 with a .400 on-base percentage and 11 walks to five strikeouts.
“Do my job,” Bauer said. “If there’s runners on base, get them in. If not, get it started. Do what I’ve got to do.”
Peyton Bauer 2-run single gets them started. @LakeCreek_SB strikes first. @LakeCreekHSpic.twitter.com/tXrqHyLzEp — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Rochinski said when the team lost to Barbers Hill last season, there was a feeling that they weren’t done. There was a thought that perhaps it just wasn’t their time.
But after the way the Lions dominated this series, and with the know-how and experience lingering from last season, they are ready to punch the clock. Minds on state, but eyes on Santa Fe at a time and place to be determined next week.
“We have so much drive this year to just finish what we started last year,” Bauer said. “We’re not going to let anything get in our way. We know what we have to do. We know what has to be done. From the first inning, we have to be prepared and locked in. Focused. We have to attack and get the job done.”
Cypress Ranch senior Molly Yoo.
As the only senior on Cypress Ranch’s varsity softball team, Molly Yoo felt alone coming into this season. Scared, even.
“I’ve done all these things and getting ready for the next part of my life, and some of these girls, their high school career is just beginning,” said Yoo, a four-year varsity letterman and Nicholls State commit. “They haven’t even gotten into the recruiting process yet, and I have. Yeah, I was scared.”
Yoo had conversations with coaches and her parents that were cathartic. She ultimately extinguished those druthers when the team needed it most.
In the offseason, the team, mostly of sophomores and juniors, was separated in cliques. “Super split,” Yoo said. At first, Yoo, wanting to be liked by her teammates, let it slide. But it got to be too much as the division seeped into January, weeks before the start of the season.
“We had to push each other to get out of our comfort zone,” Yoo said. “Talk to each other and build those relationships. I’m not the type of person that will be really loud. But eventually, I was just over everything.”
Yoo started taking initiative. She arranged team dinners at her house. She encouraged the team to gather at someone’s house prior to games to get ready.
“We were going to do everything together,” Yoo said. “It was hard for me to speak up and say something because I don’t want them to be afraid of me. I like to lead by example. But I have expectations for us as a team and I know they have the same for me.”
The Mustangs have since lived up to great expectations, even surpassed them. So has Yoo.
Cy Ranch (25-13) is back in the regional semifinals for the first time since 2018. A big why is Yoo.
The two-way talent is 17-8 in the circle with a 1.51 ERA and a .174 batting average-against. But what jumps out like the elephant in the room is Yoo’s incredible 9.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 223 punchouts to 23 walks.
She said her command and abhorrence of free passes come from playing for her 16U team when a pitcher was pulled if they walked two batters in a game.
“I hated to get pulled, so I worked really hard to not walk anyone,” Yoo said. “I really don’t like to lose. Each at-bat is like a mini-game in itself. My focus is only on the batter I’m facing and what I have to do to beat them.”
Yoo is a left-handed pitcher, a rarity in softball.
“As a hitter, you’re not used to seeing the ball come out from a different side,” she said. “It can get in your head a bit. Most lefties have a lot of weird movement, too. I’ve never understood it. But I can throw a fastball and it will wiggle.”
And Yoo knows about hitting, too. She’s not just the Mustangs’ ace. Yoo leads the team in RBIs (51) and home runs (four), and hits .371 with a .431 on-base percentage.
But it’s pitching that has her heart.
“It’s my bread and butter,” Yoo said. “It’s a game inside of a game. One day, you can be on, throwing as hard as you can and balls will be breaking. And the next day, things aren’t going your way. I like the challenge of working and improving. I always have something to get better at.”
Cypress Ranch senior Molly Yoo.VYPE Media
Ever since the Mustangs became closer as a team— “We’re not just teammates now,” Yoo said. “We’re a family.”— following a tenuous start to the season, Yoo said she is more relaxed. She credits her play on the field to what she helped transpire off it.
“I know we have what it takes to bounce back from anything,” she said. “I’m able to play loose.”
Yoo is stronger and faster this season. The spin and speed of her pitches are better.
Yoo has always had a nasty curveball, but now the rise ball is just as dangerous. What once was a “struggle pitch,” she said, is now one of her best.
“I know we all want to work on the things we’re good at, and I do, too,” Yoo said. “But I also try really hard to work on the things I’m not good at.”
That list isn’t long. In the box, Yoo is doing better keeping it simple and not always trying to swing for the fences. In the circle, she’s become adept at studying a hitter’s body language.
Are their shoulders slumped? Are they excited? Where are they standing in the box? Can she jam them inside with a curveball or should she go higher and out?
Whatever Yoo does, it’s working. Now she wants a trip to next week’s regional finals, where Cy Ranch hasn’t been since 2015.
Lake Ridge stands in the way. But Yoo has expectations for these Mustangs. And they have expectations for her.
“It’s been amazing,” Yoo said. “It’s kind of coming full circle. When I was a freshman, we made it to round four, but I was on the bench and didn’t get to see the field much. Now I’m kind of in the center of it and it’s crazy. It’s so exciting.”