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2022 TRIBUNE-HERALD SUPER CENTEX SOFTBALL TEAM

Super Centex Softball Team: Crawford's Jones schooled batters with poise, preparation

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Kenzie Jones

Crawford's Kenzie Jones said that her deep love for the game of softball prompts a lot of extra scouting of the Lady Pirates' opponents, and it paid off with a state championship.

When Kenzie Jones’ parents call out to her and ask her what she’s doing and she replies, “Studying,” she’s always telling the truth.

Sometimes it’s books. Other times it’s batters.

You’ve heard the term “student of the game?” It perfectly applies to Crawford’s junior pitcher. She didn’t get to where she is today — state champion, state tournament MVP and, now, Super Centex Player of the Year — by coasting on her considerable talent.

“She’s such a student of the game, people don’t see that part of it,” said Crawford coach Kirk Allen. “She knows these teams. I’ll come with a scouting report, she’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ve watched film on them already.’ She’s already prepared. She already knows.”

It’s not hyperbole. Jones said that she created an Excel spreadsheet for which she’d enter every batter she was set to face, determining what pitches they struggled with and figuring out the ways to attack them. Her dad noticed that many of Crawford’s opponents were uploading video of their games to the app GameChanger. While her classmates might’ve been binge-watching “Riverdale” or “Stranger Things,” she was plowing through viewings of Italy, Archer City and Axtell softball games. She even scouted four or five of Crawford’s future opponents in person this season.

“I definitely just love the game of softball,” Jones said. “I watch it 24/7, that’s just what I do. … It all just comes back to me loving the game and it being something I enjoy doing. It wasn’t hard for me for anything. I just enjoy it.”

Her commitment to her studies has lifted Jones to the head of the softball class. Jones fashioned a 29-2 record in the circle this season with a 1.13 ERA and 223 strikeouts. She also frequently supplied her own run support by banging out a .547 batting average with nine doubles, nine home runs and 51 RBIs. Most importantly, she helped heave Crawford to its fourth softball state championship in school history and first since 2019.

That win was sugary sweet in more ways than one. Naturally, it delivered a state title, it’s what the entire team had been pushing for ever since losing to Stamford in the 2021 state final.

It also brought Jones some much-anticipated carbonated goodness.

“It was really late (after the state game). I actually didn’t have a soda all the way through the playoffs,” Jones said. “I’m obsessed with it. So, seven weeks I didn’t have one. We stopped at a convenience store and I got a Coke.”

She also cried, but that’s not really anything new. “I cry after every game,” Jones said, laughing.

It really is kind of funny, because within the outlines of that circle in the middle of the diamond Jones doesn’t show much emotion. She’s locked and loaded. If you notice anything through the protective facemask strapped to her head, it’s just a steely-eyed stare as she reviews the signs with her longtime catcher Haley Holmes.

“Whatever it takes for the team. It doesn’t matter what the count is,” Allen said. “That’s the thing, too, she has several pitches she knows she can throw in any count and any time. … You definitely saw that in the playoffs. You face a lot of tough teams, especially in that final game (against Lovelady). Their top three or four girls were as good as anybody’s three or four. To hold them down like she did and do a great job, it shows what kind of competitor she is.”

Jones’ heavy preparation only builds her confidence. But hard times on the diamond don’t really faze her. She said that when her parents first signed her up for softball during her elementary school days, it was mostly as an exercise in character-building, so she’d learn how to face tough things and persevere.

Who knew she’d take it to such an extreme? A 2-0 count to the other team’s best hitter? A couple of runners on base? A one-run game in the state title game?

Bring it on.

“I guess it’s just the adrenaline rush. I love it,” said Jones, who plans to play college softball at Stephen F. Austin after she graduates from Crawford in 2023. “I love being in a tough situation and getting out of it and afterward feeling the accomplishment.

“I guess it just goes back to that softball love again. I don’t care what situation I’m in on the field, I’m just grateful I get to play it. I get to play the game, whether it’s going good or bad, it’s something I can always fall back on.”

Coach of the Year: Kirk Allen, Crawford

Area high school softball fans might think Crawford falls out of bed and wins state championships, but that really isn’t the case. It isn’t nearly as “easy” as the Lady Pirates might make it look sometimes.

For most of the first half of the 2022 season, Crawford coach Kirk Allen was worried. Or at least mildly concerned. It’s kind of in his nature, but his feelings were also justified. His talented team was winning games, but it was clear to Allen that the Lady Pirates weren’t operating at peak performance.

Finally, the light bulb flickered and then fully illuminated.

“Halfway through district everything started clicking,” Allen said. “I think by that time everyone had kind of figured out what their roles were and everyone realized this is what needs to happen for us to be successful, figure out the things they needed to do for us to operate as a team. … I thought we were talented, but we needed that chemistry, we needed to figure out what was going on. Then we started rolling and playing really well.”

Super Centex softball  2018

Kirk Allen, Crawford

And when a Pirate starts rolling, the tidal wave that ensues can wipe out everything in its path. Crawford went 29-2 on the season — losing only to Class 6A Midway’s JV team and Class 3A Blooming Grove — and reached the state tournament for the sixth time in the program history. Best of all, Crawford capped it all off with a 3-0 win over Lovelady in the final, seizing the program’s fourth championship. For the way he navigated the Lady Pirates to such a paradise, Allen is the Trib’s Super Centex Coach of the Year for the third time in his career.

At the start of the softball season, Allen was just hoping to play a game, much less win one. The Lady Pirates made a nice playoff run to the third round in girls’ basketball — “That’s a good problem to have,” Allen said, of Crawford’s success in other sports — leading to a delayed start for softball. Then once the team was ready to take the field, a winter storm canceled its first nondistrict contest against West and an entire tournament’s worth of games at Whitney.

So, back in March, Crawford didn’t really resemble the championship-caliber club it rolled out onto the field in May.

“It took a certain amount of games for us to get to the point where everybody knew what their role was, everybody knew where we were going to bat in the batting order, what position we were playing,” Allen said.

Once the players figured it out, Crawford’s opponents simply couldn’t come up with a way to topple this well-constructed Jenga tower. For Allen, the ending ideally demonstrated the all-for-one culture the Lady Pirates embraced. It took all nine players on the field to vanquish Lovelady, the coach said.

“It was truly a team effort this year,” Allen said. “You can even look in the state championship game, and defensively you can name a spot on the field and somebody made a fantastic play defensively during that game. We had scouted them, so we had a really good game plan about where we wanted to play them. So that really helped a lot, too. … We definitely got contributions from everybody on the team, and that’s what it takes to win.”

That we’re-all-in-this-together mindset isn’t limited to the people wearing the gloves and swinging the bats. Allen called Brent Elmore and Monte Pritchett “the best assistant coaches in the state” and guys “who make me look good.”

Crawford’s head softball coach is also a firm believer that winning begets more winning. When kids learn how to win in volleyball or basketball or golf, it bleeds over onto the diamond.

“It’s just the culture,” he said. “The kids don’t want to let each other down, they want to work hard and are willing to do whatever it takes to do it.”

In another superb season for Central Texas softball, others who merited Coach of the Year consideration were Axtell’s Tim Vannatta, who helped the Lady Longhorns reach their first-ever regional final, Connally’s Brad Kennedy, who led a revitalized Lady Cadet team to its first playoff wins since 2012, and Lorena’s Steve Dolezel, who in his final season of an excellent career took the Lady Leopards to within a series win of a state appearance.

Newcomer of the Year: Kaygen Marshall, Robinson

In a lot of ways, Kaygen Marshall is your typical 15-year-old. She looks like one, sounds like one. But put a bat in her hand, and her maturity shows. It’s at that point where you think, “Wow, this kid is 15?”

Robinson’s freshman phenom handled the pressure of her varsity softball season with unflappable ease. The shortstop/pitcher ended up leading Central Texas in home runs with 14, while contributing a .512 batting average, 43 hits, 47 runs, 12 doubles, four triples, 44 RBIs and 17 walks. In her very first season she won District 18-4A MVP honors, and she’s a natural choice as Super Centex Newcomer of the Year, too.

“She’s got great bat speed, a ton of power, can really hit the ball a long ways,” said Robinson coach Jimmy Eby. “But the most important thing, she had 44 RBIs in 29 games. That’s a lot. She really bore down when we had runners in scoring position, I was really impressed with that.”

2022 super centex softball

Kaygen Marshall, Robinson

Marshall has been playing softball since she was seven, and from those early days she took a simple bit of instruction to heart — get ’em on, get ’em around, get ’em home.

“I’ve always been taught that if there’s a runner on base you just do your job,” Marshall said. “Your job is to get those runners off the base and switch with their position (on base). I just feel like when I get up to bat, I just have one job and that’s to make contact with the ball.”

And Lord, when she makes contact, it’s with cruel intentions. That ball takes a beating — and often lands far past the outfield fence.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” said Marshall, when asked about the feeling of hitting a homer. “It’s just a breath of fresh air, honestly. You feel it whenever you hit it over. You hit the sweet spot and you’re just like, ah, that’s gone.”

Opposing pitchers, be warned. Throw on the inner half against Marshall at your own risk. Plenty of pitchers learned that lesson the hard way in 2022.

Marshall didn’t have to think long when asked to recount her most beautiful bomb of the year.

“There was one, I’m pretty sure we were playing Connally. And it was an inside pitch,” Marshall said. “I love inside pitches. I just cranked it. It went over our batting cages and it went over three rows of cars and it landed almost in front of the school. That’s how far it went. It was just a perfect hit. I made solid contact. And it was perfect.

“I was like, ‘Oh, money pitch. Right here.’”

Marshall, who also plays varsity volleyball and basketball, carries boundless optimism for Robinson’s 2023 softball season. She’s excited about the incoming freshman class, some of whom played on a past Little League Softball World Series team for Robinson, and the potential they bring. And next year’s newbies would be wise to heed the wisdom handed down from this year’s Newcomer of the Year.

“My advice would be don’t put yourself down,” Marshall said. “Softball is a game of failure. You’re going to fail not every time, but most of the time. One mistake, just brush it off and keep going, because you’re always going to make mistakes.”

Also, good advice to pitchers: Try to limit your mistake pitches to Marshall. Otherwise she’ll make you pay.

First-team profiles

2022 super centex softball

Madison Brown, Axtell

MADISON BROWN

Sr, Axtell

UT-Permian Basin signee displayed steady bat for region finalists, hitting .420 with five triples, while also throwing out 14 attempted base stealers.

 
2022 super centex softball

Gracie Alejo, Connally

GRACIE ALEJO

So, Connally

District 18-4A Offensive MVP made opposing pitchers respect her with .564 average, 40 RBIs, generated 11 intentional walks on the season.

 
Super Centex softball 2019

Madison Runyan, West

MADISON RUNYAN

Sr, West

University of Maryland signee, multi-time Super Centex performer did lots of damage in batter’s box (60 hits) and basepaths (22 steals, 47 runs).

 
2022 super centex softball

Savanna Pogue, Crawford

SAVANNA POGUE

So, Crawford

District 13-2A Offensive MVP banged 25 of her 61 hits for extra bases for state champion Lady Pirates, while picking it nicely as starting shortstop.

 
2022 super centex softball

Taylor Gohlke, Crawford

TAYLOR GOHLKE

Jr, Crawford

Serious swatter in middle of Crawford’s batting order punished opposing pitchers on her way to .554 average, 12 doubles and 11 round-trippers.

 
2022 super centex softball

Alexis Nava, Lorena

ALEXIS NAVA

Sr, Lorena

Nava not only represented one of the most fearsome hitters in the area with a .628 average, but she also went 12-0 in circle for region finalists.

 
2022 super centex softball

Tristian Thompson, Midway

TRISTIAN THOMPSON

Jr, Midway

Pantherettes’ star slugger whacked 10 doubles, 11 home runs, 58 RBIs for District 11-6A champions, while amassing a .907 slugging percentage.

 
2022 super centex softball

Kelsey Mathis, Midway

KELSEY MATHIS

So, Midway

Two-time Super Centex performer has quickly established herself as a force for Pantherettes, racked up 24 extra-base hits while scoring 50 runs.

 
2022 super centex softball

London Minnix, Crawford

LONDON MINNIX

So, Crawford

Call this all-state tournament center fielder, 2021 Newcomer of Year the hit machine, as she added 62 more to her ledger, giving her 146 in two years.

 
2022 super centex softball

Serenity Cade-Williams, Connally

SERENITY CADE-WILLIAMS

So, Connally

Center fielder continued her meteoric rise as playmaker, as she contributed 52 hits, 29 RBIs and 30 steals to Lady Cadets’ surprise playoff run.

 
2022 super centex softball

Annabelle Kuehl, Bosqueville

ANNABELLE KUEHL

Jr, Bosqueville

Versatile veteran shifted between three positions for Lady Bulldogs, playing strong defense and maintaining a steady .460 batting average.

 
2022 super centex softball

Hannah McCallister, Axtell

HANNAH McCALLISTER

Sr, Axtell

Two-time District 12-2A pitcher of year, UMHB signee mowed down 220 batters with strikeouts in propelling Lady Longhorns to 2A regional finals.

 
kenzie jones

Kenzie Jones, Crawford

KENZIE JONES

Jr, Crawford

Area’s most dominant pitcher didn’t allow a run in either state tourney win, accumulating a 29-2 record, 1.13 ERA and 223 strikeouts on the season.

 
2022 super centex softball

Kate Houser, Lorena

KATE HOUSER

Sr, Lorena

District 17-3A MVP could both melt bats (opponents hit just .220 off of her) or make bats sizzle, with her own 51 hits, 46 RBIs and 8 home runs.

 
2022 super centex

Lanee Brown, Midway

LANEE BROWN

Fr, Midway

Standout freshman won District 11-6A Pitcher of the Year while notching a 15-3 record, 130 strikeouts in circle for regional semifinalist Pantherettes.

 
2022 super centex softball

Kaylee Cuevas, Teague

KAYLEE CUEVAS

So, Teague

Star Lady Lions sophomore made opponents pay, both with area-high 309 strikeouts as a pitcher and 12 balls she sent over the fence as a slugger.

 
2022 super centex softball

Kaygen Marshall, Robinson

KAYGEN MARSHALL

Fr, Robinson

Talk about an impact newcomer, Marshall pounded way to .512 average, 14 home runs and 47 runs scored while winning District 18-4A MVP honors.

 
Super Centex softball  2018

Kirk Allen, Crawford

KIRK ALLEN

Coach, Crawford

Despite a delayed start to season, veteran Lady Pirates coach took team to 29-2 record, sixth state tourney appearance and fourth state title.

 

2022 SUPER CENTEX SOFTBALL TEAM

Player of the Year: Kenzie Jones, P, Crawford

Newcomer of the Year: Kaygen Marshall, SS/P, Robinson

Coach of the Year: Kirk Allen, Crawford

First Team

Pos Player Cl Avg RBIs Other School

C Madison Brown Sr .420 30 13 steals Axtell

C Gracie Alejo So .564 40 .987 slugging Connally

IF Madison Runyan Sr .594 43 12 triples West

IF Savanna Pogue So .565 41 49 runs Crawford

IF Taylor Gohlke Jr .554 46 11 homers Crawford

IF Alexis Nava Sr .628 43 21 doubles Lorena

IF Tristian Thompson Jr .458 58 11 homers Midway

OF Kelsey Mathis So .462 37 50 runs Midway

OF London Minnix So .614 32 50 runs Crawford

OF Serenity Cade-Williams So .598 29 30 steals Connally

UT Annabelle Kuehl Jr .460 37 18 steals Bosqueville

IF/P Kaygen Marshall Fr .512 44 14 homers Robinson

Pitchers

Pos Player Cl W-L ERA Ks School

SP Hannah McCallister Sr 22-4 1.92 220 Axtell

SP Kenzie Jones Jr 29-2 1.13 223 Crawford

SP Kate Houser Sr 17-6 2.80 165 Lorena

SP Lanee Brown Fr 15-3 3.12 130 Midway

SP Kaylee Cuevas So 21-7 1.88 309 Teague

Second Team

Pos Player Cl Avg RBIs Other School

C Haley Holmes Jr .500 30 5 HRs Crawford

C Brookelyn Guerrero Jr .523 32 7 HRs China Spring

IF Bralyn Belk Sr .500 48 7 HRs Axtell

IF Kaylee Rodriguez Jr .451 28 30 runs Belton

IF Lindsey Wilcox Sr .524 28 17 doubles China Spring

IF Kylie Ray Sr .526 35 8 HRs Crawford

IF Layni Tanner Sr .402 22 39 runs Troy

OF Rue Sheehan Sr .479 12 7 triples China Spring

OF Jaylynn El-Far Sr .436 28 48 runs Lorena

OF Shelby Smith Sr .466 36 15 steals Midway

OF Kylie Allred Jr .357 13 31 steals Troy

UT Yanijah Cruz Sr .538 22 5 HRs University

Pitchers

Pos Player Cl W-L ERA Ks School

SP Brooke Ridgway Sr 13-5 2.72 171 China Spring

SP Rylee Hawkins Jr 7-3 2.53 54 Dawson

SP Izzy Garcia Fr 21-6 3.04 151 Troy

SP Madorry Gonzales Sr 15-2 1.86 170 Vanguard

Honorable Mention

Reagan Hand, Savannah Porter and Maddie Niven, Axtell; McKenzie Drake and Kaylee Jordan, Belton; Jayla Lee, Bosqueville; Heaven Rembert, China Spring; Alise Medlock, Connally; Kaylee Payne, Jady Miller and Brooke Martinez, Dawson; Brynna Banks, Emily DeLaHoya, Madison Putman, Kyra Cerda, Lexi Banks, Madeline Lee and Breelyn Dyer, Frost; Kinsey Gardner, Raylee Glover and Riann Tippit, Gatesville; Jordan Forns and Hayleigh Arellano, Hillsboro; Layla Oliver, Mart; Addy Todd, McGregor; Destiny Bailey, Carleigh Samford and Gwendolyn Johnson, Mexia; Macy Pick, Midway; Alissa Woodruff, Samantha Barrientos and Bella Martinez, Parkview Christian; Landri Pick, Riesel; Lily Garcia and Miah Corona, Troy; Daniella Ramirez, University; Bianka Martinez, Riley McAdams, McKenzie McDonald and Kloey Horton, Valley Mills; Lexi Barnett, Addie Morris and Amelia Livesay, Vanguard; Pita Reel, Whitney; Ana Colquette, Dakota Butler and Charley Braun, Wortham

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