In the spring of 2001, Elgin coach Faye Fregia and her team’s star pitcher, Amanda Wolf, made a pact to complete the season at the state softball tournament in Austin.
That journey ended painfully short of its intended destination. Wolf, who was named the state’s Class 3A player of the year that season, pitched a two-hitter and struck out 23 in the regional championship against Splendora, but the Lady Cats lost in 13 innings.
Although they haven’t shared a dugout for the past 12 years, softball remains the common thread that binds their friendship. When Fregia left Elgin six years ago to become the head coach at Leander, she was replaced by Wolf, who pitched for Fresno State from 2002-05.
Now with just two weeks to go before the 2013 UIL state softball tournament takes place at McCombs Field, Leander and Elgin are among the 16 Class 4A teams still in contention.
Fregia will lead Leander against Gregory-Portland in a best-of-three regional semifinal series that begins Friday in San Antonio. Elgin, meanwhile, hopes to keep its season alive by winning a best-of-three series against Richmond Foster that opens Friday in Bryan.
While Elgin has reached or surpassed the regional-semifinal round nine times in the past 12 years, Leander has rarely tasted playoff success. The Lady Lions, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, count heavily on 11 players who are sophomores or freshmen.
Fregia admits she had little idea before the season how such a young team would fare. The coach describes her juniors and seniors as “overachievers with high expectations” who lead by example. “They have communicated and modeled success, effort and teamwork to our underclassmen,” she said.
Much of Leander’s success can be attributed to the sophomore tandem of pitcher Hannah Holt and catcher Shelby Irlbeck.
Holt has fashioned a 19-8 record and an ERA of 1.95 while throwing 11 shutouts. She has not allowed a home run in 151 innings pitched this year, striking out 206. Irlbeck leads the team with a .570 batting average and has struck out just three times in 107 plate appearances.
Leander has outscored its first three playoff opponents — McCallum, Schertz Clemens and Lockhart — by a combined total of 26-1.
“We have a super young team,” said senior right fielder Lakin Carpenter, who’s hitting .418 with 31 RBIs, one shy of team leader Hailey MacKay’s total, “but we’re also super strong and super competitive.”
Leander’s success under Fregia comes as no surprise to Wolf, whose Lady Wildcats stunned top-ranked Barbers Hill last weekend, winning 3-2 and 4-2, to reach the regional semifinals.
“I can still remember how coach Fregia would tell us what it means to have Lady Cat pride; how important it was to be proud of being from Elgin and to be part of this program.”
The strong bond between Fregia and Wolf was evident after Elgin and Leander won their respective playoffs games on Saturday to advance another round. Wolf sent a text message to Fregia to congratulate her on Leander’s victory.
“Happy Mothers Day to my softball mom,” Wolf wrote. “What do you say we meet up in a couple weeks in Austin to play?”
“It’s a date!”
• UIL softball regional semifinals
Hays vs. Corpus Christi Moody: Game 1, 7:30 p.m. Thursday; Game 2, 6 p.m. Friday; Game 3, 8 p.m. Friday, if necessary (All games at Floresville HS)
Elgin vs. Richmond Foster: Game 1, 6 p.m. Friday; Game 2, 11 a.m. Saturday; Game 3, 1 p.m. Saturday, if necessary (All games at Bryan HS)
Leander vs. Gregory-Portland: Game 1, 7 p.m. Friday; Game 2, 1 p.m. Saturday; Game 3, 3 p.m. Saturday, if necessary (All games at Hardin Athletic Complex, San Antonio)