One of the most unhittable pitchers in Central Texas had one final milestone to reach before ending her high school career.
Reicher senior Sarah Beth Toben wanted 1,000 career strikeouts. And halfway through the season she had no clue if she’d get there.
Toben had been Reicher’s staff ace for nearly four years, accumulating strikeouts like a chipmunk scrounging for acorns before the advancing winter. She guided Reicher to the TAPPS Class 3A title her freshman year and guided the Lady Cougars back to the state tournament her sophomore and junior years after Reicher jumped up to 4A.
Her strikeout totals had ballooned enough through her first three seasons that she had an outside shot at cresting 1,000. But it was going to take 193 strikeouts to get there, and Toben had just lost her catcher of three years to graduation.
At the midway point of the season, Toben’s father, Brad, told her she was a mere 100 strikeouts away. Two weeks later, he noticed a clerical error. He was about 100 strikeouts off. In the wrong direction.
“I had to push myself to get there,” Toben said.
Toben cruised through the second half of the season on record pace, snapping the record in a 2-0 win over District 21-2A champ Bruceville-Eddy in a playoff warm-up game. Toben finished the year with a whopping 245 strikeouts, giving her a monstrous tally of 1,052 for her high school softball career.
The season didn’t quite end as Toben would’ve liked. Reicher got to the regional final before Midland Christian ended Toben’s Reicher career in a 6-0 defeat. The loss still gnaws at Toben, who is unabashedly competitive. In fact, that nature led her to a Baylor softball scholarship. She’ll begin her Baylor career as a pitcher later this year.
But for now, with a stellar high school career in the rearview, the 2013 Super Centex Player of the Year has some time to stop and reflect. And it was a heck of a ride.
“When it’s your senior year you just kind of lay it on the line,” Toben said. “You just try your best, and you know you’re not going to have any regrets. You just try your best.”
Toben’s numbers this year were par for her career: a 0.69 ERA in 131 innings, 245 strikeouts to just 25 walks, 15 complete games in 24 appearances, and those are just her pitching numbers. She batted .566, drove in 25 runs, blasted three home runs and had 47 hits. Two of her four losses this year came to 4A Alvin.
All told, she won 91 games as a high school pitcher and lost just 19.
Toben realized the full measure of her competitiveness when she played with club team Dallas Fusion in 2010 and 2011. When she first got there, she sat on the bench behind another pitcher. It wasn’t for her.
“It was really nice to sit behind someone who was going to D1 and watch her and how she acts on the mound,” Toben said. “But I would have much rather watched it from a television than from the bench.”
Coming into her senior season, there were only minor tweaks to be made, and most of those were mental. As the clear team leader, Toben realized early that assuming the mantle of leadership was a natural fit. Which was a good thing, because, as she discovered, most of those traits are inherent.
“Whenever you’re the leader, everyone looks up to you. Whatever your attitude is, that’s what they look to,” Toben said.” It’s not something you can control, but whether you’re up or down is whether the team is up or down, and whether they’re on the fence and cheering or sitting on the bench and just watching. It’s something you can’t change, it’s just something that’s inside of you if you’re a leader.”
At Baylor’s behest, Toben added a drop ball after she committed last fall. Toben has always had a devastating array of speed pitches, having been clocked as fast as 67 mph. Even after slimming down during her junior year to get in better playing shape, she can still routinely hit 65 on the gun.
But one of Toben’s few weaknesses was pitching against left-handed batters, who had an easier time tracking her five pitches, most of which traveled low to high. During Reicher’s push toward state her junior year, an entire team batted from the left side of the plate in an attempt to confuse Toben into a mistake.
It didn’t work, but it did illuminate a new direction for Toben’s offseason training regimen.
Adding a sixth pitch to her arsenal before her senior year made her that much more unpredictable, with an array of pitches that can dovetail away in any direction. Whether high or low, Toben can now fill up a batter’s line of sight.
“It actually came in handy during the Crawford game,” Toben said. “Whenever I came up against Jessica Tomchesson and those quick lefties, it helped to have that drop ball because they’re good at laying off my rise, because it goes opposite to them as it does to righties.”
Toben will continue on to Baylor, where she’ll have a chance to make an impact on a team with annual postseason aspirations. Breaking in as a pitcher could be doubly difficult, considering Baylor has three pitchers whom Toben might be expected to beat out.
But as far as Toben is concerned, what’s life without a bit of challenge?
Newcomer of the Year: Taylor Ellis, Midway
It’s hard to imagine a freshman burdened with more immediate expectation than Midway’s Taylor Ellis.
After losing a star-studded senior class that took Midway to the 4A state tournament in three of the last four seasons, the 2013 team was largely inexperienced and had to deal with a jump to the 5A ranks. Ellis, who took over the coveted shortstop position shortly after the season began, was suddenly expected to carry much of the load.
No sweat for the freshman with Little League World Series experience. Ellis hit .514, drove in 45 RBIs and struck out just five times in 119 plate appearances. The hard-swinging spark plug who earned the nickname “Sparky” from coach Michelle Edwards earned District 8-5A’s offensive MVP honor and made the leadoff spot her own.
As a freshman at Midway with a verbal commitment to Baylor in hand, success validated Ellis’ confidence.
“I got a lot of stuff about, ‘You don’t deserve this,’ ” Ellis said. “It kind of just put me up there, my self esteem and my confidence.”
Ellis started the season in the outfield, but she’d earned her spot at shortstop by midseason. She was the proverbial tree-topper in the lineup for the Pantherettes, who cruised through 8-5A unbeaten until stumbling in the regular season finale against Belton.
The next Monday at practice, Ellis, known in the clubhouse for her vivacious attitude, came out to a dour practice more fired up than ever. With the playoffs looming that weekend, Ellis’ upbeat attitude earned her the nickname “Sparky” that day.
“I’m just always positive about everything,” Ellis said. “We always hit each other on the butt, or pat each other on the back or slap our helmets. I always just get the team rowdy at practice, just get us all riled up and pumped up for games.”
It wasn’t all off-field theatrics for Ellis. The next week, after Midway swept through the bi-district round for its first playoff series win as a 5A program, Midway ran up against Hebron in the area round. In Game 1, Courtney Colunga tied the game at 3-3 with two outs in the seventh inning to bring up Ellis to face Florida signee Chelsea Herndon.
With two strikes, Ellis ripped Herndon’s offering over the fence for a walk-off winner. Thanks largely to Ellis’ 2-for-4, three-RBI leg-up in Game 1, Midway went on to win the series in three games.
It was the capper to an incredible week. Just days earlier, Ellis committed to the Baylor softball team. Not a bad ending to a massively productive freshman year.
“That was the highlight of my year,” Ellis said.
Coach of the Year: Mike Saucke, Hubbard
Softball is a way of life in Hubbard. Nobody knows that better than Mike Saucke.
Saucke has deep roots in Hubbard, where he coached in the ’90s and then returned as softball coach after an absence in 2007. Everyone knows about Baseball Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, but the adult men’s softball community in Hubbard has been vivid and talented for decades.
Indeed, Hubbard installed a girls’ softball program at the high school level for the first time in 1992, one of the earliest area schools to do so. The UIL hadn’t even recognized it as a sport yet, and Saucke helped out with that first team.
So when Saucke accepted 19 players onto his varsity roster for the 2013 season, it wasn’t exactly a
shot in the dark that at least a handful would be some of the area’s best.
Still, Saucke squeezed every ounce of life from the Lady Jaguars this season. Despite its rich softball history, Hubbard hadn’t been as far as the regional final round since 1995 and had never been to Austin. Saucke changed the formula.
With Saucke’s deft touch and a group of talented players, including his daughter, Kate, Hubbard went 24-7-1, blasted into the regional final game and gave Sam Rayburn a challenge before stumbling. It was the best season for the softball-starved town in nearly 20 years.
“You don’t want to live in the past, but they know the past is there,” Saucke said. “I guess they all tried to live up to the expectations that the older crowd has set for them. Not really what I set for them, but it’s what they set for themselves. They expected to go to Austin this year. Even though they didn’t reach that goal, we still had a pretty unbelievable year.”
Indeed, Hubbard was one of just two area softball teams to reach the regional final round, and the Lady Jaguars did it without winning their own district. Mart won 11-1A, but Hubbard won the one-game playoff meeting, 7-6, to keep going. The Lady Jaguars caught fire at just the right time.
Perhaps one of Saucke’s most crucial coaching maneuvers was keeping a roster of 19 girls on the same page. While some players like Dallas Fletcher, Olivia Curtis and Kate Saucke played year-round, others had never picked up a glove before.
“A lot of them come out there just wanting to try it out, because it’s such a big sport in Hubbard,” Saucke said. “Some of them make it all the way through and some of them don’t. We have kids that play year-round, and they’re helping me coach kids who just now for the first time in their life have picked up a ball. It’s great to have that type of feeling, that I know they’re teaching the younger group right. It truly is about a team-type situation. Carrying 19 kids around, you have the 19 kids out on the field, but then you have 10 kids in the dugout that’s your own cheering section. That to me was just amazing.”
2013 SUPER CENTEX TEAM
Pos Player Cl. Avg. Notable School
C Sydney Christensen Jr .482 41 RBIs Crawford
1B Erin Knox Sr .483 7 HRs West
2B Morgan Groppe Jr .538 57 hits Crawford
3B Kate Saucke Jr .558 58 hits Hubbard
SS Shelby Friudenberg Jr .646 11 HRs Bruceville-Eddy
OF Jessica Tomchesson Jr .582 64 hits Crawford
OF Dakota Holly Sr .656 61 hits Bruceville-Eddy
OF Tori Phillips Jr .488 51 RBIs Crawford
DH Summer Dolezel Sr .508 42 runs Lorena
UT Cy’Andria Newton So .585 50 SB Bosqueville
Pos Player Cl. W-L ERA School
P Ashley Hoehn Jr 12-2 1.75 Bruceville-Eddy
P Carrigan Chambers Jr 18-3 1.67 Crawford
P Olivia Curtis Jr 11-3 1.60 Hubbard
P Sarah Beth Toben Sr 19-4 0.69 Reicher
P Kayla Donaldson Jr 27-7 1.51 Lorena
P Callee Guffey Jr 20-6 1.00 Midway
Player: Sarah Beth Toben, Reicher Newcomer: Taylor Ellis, Midway
Coach: Mike Saucke, Hubbard
Pos Player Cl. Avg. Notable School
C Clarissa Cervantez Sr .540 14 2B University
1B Jessica Williams Sr .480 41 runs Hubbard
2B Heather Reed Sr .408 20 RBIs Connally
3B Leah Brown Sr .452 7 HRs Crawford
SS Maddison Kettler Fr .570 32 runs West
OF Keona Dawkins So .375 21 hits Connally
OF Haley Boyett Jr .380 19 RBIs Robinson
OF Spencer Strain Sr .375 15 SBs Robinson
DH Katy Light Sr .509 57 RBIs Bosqueville
UT Lindsey Cargill Sr .440 23 RBIs Robinson
Pos Player Cl. W-L ERA School
P Chandlar Coskrey Fr 10 Ws 2.14 Midway
P Korie Dutschmann Jr 12-3 1.97 Crawford
P Chandler Smith So 14-3 1.13 Vanguard
P Lizzie Donaldson Fr 19-4 2.42 Bosqueville
P Jae Moore Fr 11-4 1.35 Frost
P Hannah Wolfe Fr 17-8 2.78 Robinson
Honorable mention: Ciara Williams, Bosqueville; Kierra Gaither, Connally; Hillaree Schwartz, Frost; Dallas Fletcher, Hubbard; Cheyenne Bell, Lorena; Chloe Brignac, Kaymee Gooden, Cheyenne Goodnight and Kaitlyn Smith, Mart; Courtney Colunga and Taylor Mordecai, Midway; Katie Glomb, Reicher; Kenzie Dawson and Taylor Stephens, Robinson; Nimsi Galindo, Rachel Grimes, Taylor Lindsay and Kacy Schilling, TCA; Maria Aguilar, Estrella Guardiola, Melina Martinez, University; Lexi Newman, Vanguard; Nicole Hutyra and Jennifer Prnka, West