April 11, 2017 - By Charles Bryce, San Angelo Standard-Times
This season has been 24 years in the making for the Central High School softball team.
For the first time since the program began in 1994, the Lady Cats have qualified for the playoffs.
"It's pretty exciting," said Central head coach Megan Pumphrey, a former Angelo State University player now in her fifth year with the Lady Cats. "We're not done yet. We've gone on a little winning streak here, too. We've won four straight games. We're worried about making it five, and it's one game at a time."
Central improved to 13-11-1 overall and 7-3 in District 8-6A with a 7-5 eight-inning victory on the road against Harker Heights on Friday. Afterwards, the Lady Cats headed over to watch Copperas Cove beat Killeen Ellison, which guaranteed Central a spot in the playoffs with four regular-season games left.
"You see our girls out there cheering and getting all excited when Cove wins, because that gave us our first-ever playoff berth," Pumphrey said.
Lady Cats senior right fielder Tori Ontiveros said the players were on Cloud Nine.
"There's not really a way you can explain it," Ontiveros said. "We were all in tears. We couldn't believe it. We've been waiting to do this since we were freshmen. This is a big deal for us. This is something that myself and the rest of the seniors are going to hold onto forever. We're going to know that we're the first ones to do it."
After coming up short year after year in their old district, the Lady Cats began a new chapter this season in District 8-6A. They're currently in third place behind Belton (21-4, 10-0) and Waco Midway (18-7, 9-1).
Central hosts Killeen High (2-8 in district) at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Central Softball Complex.
Heading into the season, Pumphrey said the thinking was "We're going to go out there with nothing to lose in a new district."
Nobody has been associated with the Lady Cats program longer than longtime assistant coach David Millsap, now in his 13th season.
He talked about what has made this 2017 Central team so special.
"We probably had some teams in the past that I would have qualified as playoff-caliber teams," Millsap said. "We had some good individuals, for sure, but it just didn't quite come together.
"We've had lots of good players come through the program. Going into this (year), I'm not sure I would have predicted this, quite honestly. But they have come together. It doesn't seem like anything fazes them. When (Harker Heights) tied us up (Friday) somebody said, 'Hey, we get to play some extra softball.' And sure enough, we scored in the top of the eighth and ended up winning the thing. Pressure doesn't get to them. At least, it doesn't show."
The Lady Cats have two quality pitchers in senior Marisa Cruz, a college signee, and junior Sidney Gilbert. They're supported by a solid defense and an opportunistic offense, in which they both play big roles there as well.
"These girls are picking each other up on the field, both in practice and in games," Pumphrey said. "It's finally all coming together and it's fun to see."
And, like their coach said, the Lady Cats aren't satisfied by simply reaching the postseason for the first time.
"We want to push for as far as we can go," junior catcher Mickayla Jones said. "We've been working this hard so far. We just want to see how far we can make it and hopefully go a few rounds in the playoffs."
During this breakthrough season, the Lady Cats are enjoying great support for their home games and that's giving them a little extra swagger.
"It's an exciting year because we're finally winning and everybody wants to see it," Jones said. "It's a big motivator."
Ontiveros talked about how big of a factor the Central coaching staff has played in 2017.
"They've taught us everything that we know," she said of Pumphrey, Millsap and second assistant Josh Brewer. "Coming into high school, it's a whole different ballgame and a new level. They've taught us things that our parents probably couldn't even teach us, so sharing this moment with them, it's unbelievable."