By Jeff Odom
Wharton softball coach Ashlee Cappucci sighs when she thinks of her team’s 15-year district championship drought.
“It has been a very long time,” she said with a smile.
The Wildcats (8-5) own the only blank banner inside the school’s gymnasium, having never won districts in program history. But Cappucci senses a different vibe around the squad this season.
“They want to be the first ones to do it,” Cappucci said. She added, “That’s the will and the drive in everybody’s heart. They want this to be the year, and they all want it, and they do have that passion to make it happen and make school history.”
And Wharton has the pieces in place to do just that.
The Wildcats jumped out to a fast start this season with wins over Alonso, Freedom and last year’s Class 7A state champions Chamberlain.
The offense has been led by sophomore shortstop/catcher Erica Matich and junior first baseman Nicole Dixon.
Dixon, who’s batting .323 with four RBI, said the surprising start gave the team confidence moving forward, something she believes it will need to get past tough opponents.
“I didn’t really expect us to come out here and blow everybody out, because I thought it was going to be more difficult,” Dixon said. “We’ve bonded as a team, and we’ve always had fun out here dancing all the time. So it’s been fun.”
While Wharton has enjoyed its share of success to open the year, it could be more difficult as the season progresses because of the level of talent in Class 8A-District 7.
Four teams in the district — Durant, Plant, Newsome and Bloomingdale — have winning records, forcing the Wildcats, which have not had a losing season in five years, to play every game almost perfectly.
It’s an expectation that puts a lot of pressure on many players, but senior third baseman Sam Hathcoat said Cappucci’s various drills in practice and team chemistry takes a lot of the weight off their shoulders.
“We have to have our effort and keep working at it,” Hathcoat said. “If we do something wrong (in practice), we have to run. So, we have consequences for everything, but it pays off in the end, and hopefully we’ll come out on top.”
One of the toughest hurdles Wharton has to overcome is having Makeleigh Dooley pitch all but three innings the year. The senior has stepped up in big ways for her squad so far though, compiling a 8-5 record with a 1.47 ERA in 71.2 innings.
Cappucci disagrees that her squad is at a disadvantage having to rely so heavily on one pitcher because of the amount of talent she sees on her roster.
“There’s a fire that every girl has in every game we played,” Cappucci said. “I mean, we were 8-1 at one time. It’s amazing to see that kind of passion and the battle because we respect every opponent. … You know any night can be anyone’s ball game, but we have enough talent that this team can go all the way.”
Matich, who leads the team hitting .438 with nine runs scored and seven RBI, agreed with her coach, adding the recent four-game losing skid made players understand they won’t just walk over opponents.
“It just really takes some recommitment to dedicating our time and working hard for what we have to do out here,” Matich said. “We have to learn from mistakes we’ve made out here and keep our work ethic up and keep our mental game good.”
The Wildcats will wrap up their regular season district schedule at Bloomingdale on April 2 at 7 p.m. The district tournament is at Durant April 15 to 19.
Cappucci said the team must be on the same page to win a district title.
“Every girl has got to come out to practice and give 110 percent if there was a scale that big,” Cappucci said. “It’s going to take every single girl. It can’t just be five or four or three. It has to be a team effort with leadership. … I do believe in my heart that we have a state championship team here. They have to know that too.”
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