THE WOODLANDS — The Woodlands Christian Academy softball program had seen the lowest of lows. Tallies in the win column were difficult to come by, and momentum of any amount seemed impossible to harness.
Enter Richard Perez.
Since Perez took over the reins of the program in 2016, the Lady Warriors have seen a massive turnaround and are beginning to establish a tradition of excellence.
The Lady Warriors (14-7) received their final regular-season tune-up on Tuesday evening with a 5-3 home victory over Huntsville Alpha Omega and are headed to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.
“I’ve been really, really pleased with what the girls have been doing,” said Perez, who was covered in silly string after being ambushed by his players postgame. It was their coach’s birthday, after all, and they wanted to celebrate the occasion. “They’re playing a great game and advancing every season. What more can I ask for? They’re getting the job done.”
TWCA advanced to the TAPPS state tournament for the first time in school history last spring, falling to eventual champion Schertz John Paul II. But that experience has paid dividends this season, and the Lady Warriors are seeking another extended postseason run.
These players are back-to-back district champions now, and their march to the pinnacle of private school softball begins at 5 p.m. Monday at home against San Antonio Lutheran. The winner advances to play either Boerne Geneva or Bay Area Christian in the second round.
“I think [the experience] is going to help us out a lot,” Perez said. “They know where we came up short last year, and they know where we’ve got to put in the extra work, and they know what they’ve got to do to get it done. Hopefully, they can pull it all together. ... I think they’re prepared.”
TWCA swept through TAPPS District 6-3A this season with a 9-0 record, defeating Lutheran North, Northland Christian and Katy Faith West three times apiece. The Lady Warriors outscored their opponents 148-11 during those games. They loaded up a tough non-district schedule, however, which made them thoroughly battle-tested early in the season.
TWCA has been led this season by its lone returning first-team all-state player: senior Faith Hanshaw, who was also selected as the district Most Valuable Player last spring. Hanshaw entered this week with an eye-popping .642 batting average over 54 at-bats. She has also been formidable in the circle with a 12-7 record, 2.44 ERA and 139 strikeouts.
“She’s instrumental,” Perez said of Hanshaw, who was honored pregame as the team’s lone senior. “She’s instrumental to this program, this team. She carries a load on her, and she does it with a smile on her face and no hesitation, no matter if she’s sore, no matter if she’s tired. She’s just a workhorse, and she’s a true leader for this program. Without her, it’s a whole different thing.”
Hanshaw is far from the only standout player on the roster. Six other players entered the week batting .310 or higher: Ashley Darilek (.510), Mattie Hopkins (.464), Adele Veldekens (.415), Gracie Graham (.395), Mariska Coelho (.368) and Megan Hannigan (.310). Graham, Coelho and Veldekens were all-state selections last year and have continued to impress.
“We’re aggressive,” Hanshaw said with a smile. “We have to be aggressive. Hitting is what wins games, and coach always teaches us to be aggressive, stay ready. We actually have, almost a bet, with our coach - if you get a double or more on the first pitch, then he’ll get us a smoothie. That’s been our competition the whole season, to see who can get the most smoothies.”
While the on-field performances have carried the Lady Warriors to plenty of victories this year, the team camaraderie has also been important. That will continue to be an emphasis as TWCA enters its most challenging stretch of the season with everything on the line.
“Team is everything,” Hanshaw said. “Ever since I’ve been at this school, the focus has been on the team. If we don’t have that team, nothing is going to happen. We have all these individuals, but we have to play together because that’s how we make those wins happen.”