Lady Cats planning to surpass previous success
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Feb. 20, 2004 -- The 12 Sulphur Springs Lady Cats will start their softball season off with a trip to Allen today. They have a definite idea of where they want to end the season.

In Austin.

The Lady Cats, coming off a 22-8-4 season in 2003 along with their third regional quarterfinal appearance in four years, have set goals that extend beyond their past success, said head coach John McCullough.

"We have the same goals every year," he said. "Our first goal is to win district, the second goal is to be 10-0, our third goal is to get past the third round of the playoffs, and our ultimate goal is to win the state championship.

"These seniors haven't lost a district game since they've been in high school. One of their main goals this year is to finish up district 40-0 as a high school softball player. Three of the last four years, we've been to the third round and lost there by one run. This year, they want to push past that. After that, we'll see what happens. Hopefully, we'll get to Austin and play for the state championship."

When McCullough talks about "these seniors," he's referring to 10 girls on his 12-player roster. Among them are five three-year starters: outfielders Kristen Cross and Whitney Gideon, pitchers/infielders Hollie Watson and Melissa McSheffery, and shortstop Savana Gibby. All of them were at least second team All-District last season.

The other seniors are Courtney Aguilar, Lacey Temples, Cristie Dixon, Krissy Cotten and Crystal Smitherman.

"We have a lot of experience and some very talented athletes," McCullough said. "We have high expectations."

Much of those expectations center on the pitching duo of Watson and McSheffery and the sound defense behind them.

"Pitching and defense better be the strong points of our game because that's what we emphasize," the coach said. "Our goal at the very beginning of the year is to have outstanding defense and pitching. That's what our whole philosophy is based on -- to have a pitcher who throws strikes and a defense that can make plays."

Watson has thrown a perfect game on varsity, and both seniors have hurled no-hitters and one-hitters.

"They both are, at times, dominate," McCullough said. "When you have a pitcher who strikes out five or six, that eliminates two innings of balls that are put in play. That's very beneficial for us because those are balls you don't have to field. Hopefully, with our defense, we can take care of the rest of them."

They start their test tonight against Allen, the District 9-5A champion last season. One of their biggest tests during the regular season will come against 11-4A district rival McKinney North, whom the Dallas Morning News trumpeted as a "Team to Watch" and pitcher Becky Nye as a "Player to Watch." Sulphur Springs went 3-0 against those pitchers last year.

Neither the Sulphur Springs team nor none of its players were mentioned in the preview issue, and that hasn't gone unnoticed by McCullough or his players.

"I don't have to say a word, the Dallas Morning News does a great job of providing motivation for us," McCullough said. "McKinney North is a very good team, but until they beat us, we're the team to beat. Everybody asks us, and I tell them we're going to be district champions because we have an outstanding group of young ladies and we're going to take care of business. We look to be district champions when it's over with.

"Our girls understand that McKinney North is the challenge to us, and we plan on them finishing in second place again."

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