Written by Matt Wixon
Daunting lineup has No. 1 Ennis enjoying unprecedented success on the softball field
Diving catches, big hits and clutch performances took the Ennis football team to No. 1 many times during the last decade. Now those catches and hits are a potent combination on the Ennis softball field.
Ennis is No. 1 in that sport, at least in the Class 4A state rankings. It climbed to the top spot last month, and with 17 straight wins, the Lions are digging in there.
“We try to put it in perspective,” Ennis coach Rodney McNeill said of the No. 1 ranking. “What’s important is what you do on the field each day. I tell the team it’s an indication of what they’ve done so far this season.”
What Ennis (25-2-1, 13-0 in District 15-4A) has done is pretty impressive.
Led by six starters who are hitting better than .400, the Lions are averaging more than nine runs per game. Catcher Riley Fira, a junior who has orally committed to UT-Arlington, is hitting .556 and leads the area in home runs (13) and RBIs (60). Sophomore Kayla Prachyl is hitting .518, and seniors Ashley Deutsch and Abby Liska are each hitting .493 and have combined for 57 RBIs.
The Lions also have 11 shutouts, thanks to their defense and the pitching of Taylor Maliska. The sophomore is 17-1 with a 1.68 ERA.
“Over the last two or three years, our talent level has gone up, and each year we’ve had a little more success,” McNeill said. “It’s been kind of a building process.”
The process has accelerated over the last two seasons. Ennis didn’t win a playoff game from 2007 to 2010, but it advanced to the second round last year. This year’s playoffs are still three weeks away, but Ennis already has two great indicators of future success: Two wins over Forney.
Forney, which was the 4A state runner-up last year, has been Ennis’ nemesis in recent years. Forney won both district games against Ennis last season, and in 2009 and ’10, Forney swept best-of-3 playoff series against Ennis by a combined score of 28-2.
This year Ennis beat Forney by scores of 4-0 and 2-1.
“Last year, they got us pretty good, but we didn’t feel like we played a good game against them,” McNeill said. “I think the girls have a different mindset now. Expectations have grown a lot.”
So has the excitement surrounding the program. Games are attracting bigger crowds, and the players are enjoying the added attention from the community that has always taken great pride in its sports teams.
The pride is most evident during the fall, when the community gets behind the Ennis football team that won state titles in 1975, 2000, ’01 and ’04. The softball team, on the other hand, has never made it to the state tournament.
Ennis has never even been past the regional quarterfinals, but the Lions are confident that will change this year.
“The players are really pretty humble,” McNeill said. “They just kind of show up each day thinking, ‘What are we going to do to get better today?’”