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Cinco Ranch softball carries experience into 2017

February 16, 2017

The Cinco Ranch softball team graduated a few key contributors among its 2016 senior class, including the arms that handled most of the innings in the circle. But much of the starting lineup returns, with 10 of the top 12 players in terms of at-bats back for this spring.

A junior-laden lineup helped Cinco Ranch earn its 12th consecutive playoff appearance, including two in a row since the transition from a group that won back-to-back undefeated district championships and seven playoff rounds in three seasons. This year an experienced squad is eager to return to that form, with the assistance of a few rookies.

“It also helps we have the addition of a couple new freshmen, but they’ve gelled pretty well,” Cinco Ranch senior shortstop Isabelle McKiernan said. “We’re excited to show them kind of what we’ve learned the past three years, from going to the golden dynasty to kind of a rough patch. We’re excited to bring them in and see how we all play together on a real field.”

McKiernan and senior catcher Sydney Stone were freshmen on Cinco Ranch’s most recent district and area champion. McKiernan posted a .398 on-base percentage along with 11 runs and eight stolen bases.

Stone received second-team all-District 19-6A honors as a junior after a season that included a home run and a team-best 14 RBI. She will play for Galveston College next season, joining a roster that includes recent Mayde Creek ace Ashley Kriesel.

“I really liked the coach,” Stone said. “He’s awesome. Then obviously I’ll know Ashley, so I’ll get to catch her again. Galveston is a very good program, so I’m looking forward to going somewhere after that.”

The Lady Cougars received a spark last year from current sophomore outfielder Kylie Neel, who led the team with a .351 batting average, 15 runs, eight doubles and 15 stolen bases.

“Last year was good for us, because she started last year,” Stone said. “I know I got the feel for her throws to home, so I know what to expect this year. It will be a lot better.”

The Lady Cougars earned the No. 4 seed for the playoffs during the last two years, running into perennial regional contender Bellaire in the bi-district round both times. This year’s opening round will be against a Fort Bend ISD opponent, but a higher seed would still serve Cinco Ranch well.

The Lady Cougars must navigate a district that has proven deeper in recent years. Katy, the 2015 state champion advanced to the regional finals last year with Seven Lakes reaching the regional final. Mayde Creek had its best team in a decade, winning an area title.

“Everybody keeps getting better,” Neel said. “It used to be Katy ISD had one or two teams at the top and now it feels like everyone’s competitive. I’m really excited for the first district game against Katy. We’ll see where we are early.”

The Lady Cougars co-host the Katy ISD Tournament Feb. 16-18 at multiple sites. They will play Hightower, Foster, Cypress Lakes, Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial, Dulles and Cypress Falls at CRHS. Cinco Ranch plays at The Woodlands Invitational the following week, preparing for a District 19-6A slate that begins March 3 at home against Katy.

“The Woodlands tournament is always a little rough, but it’s a good bonding experience for us,” McKiernan said. “Those teams, like Bellaire and all of them, are really good. It prepares us to come back to our schools like Katy, Seven Lakes and Mayde Creek that we have to face.”