Christine Billmeier

Pilot Point’s Christine Billmeier bats during a March 14 game against Sanger in Pilot Point. Billmeier is back for her junior season, which Pilot Point kicked off with a 20-0 win Tuesday night against Argyle.

After going 31-7 last year and advancing to the Class 3A Region II semifinals, the Pilot Point softball team has the pieces in place to make a lot of noise again this season.

The Lady Bearcats return all but one starter from last year’s team and have an increased level of depth under coach James Ramsey.

Pilot Point got off to a lightning fast start Tuesday night, dominating Class 4A Argyle 20-0.

The Lady Bearcats will compete in the Prosper tournament this weekend.

“We have a good group of kids and a lot of kids back,” Ramsey said. “But like we told them, last year doesn’t mean anything for this year. We have to come out and work hard every day and get better each and every week. It’s early, and there are still a lot of things to see and progress on as we go through the process.”

Dani Medina was the only senior on last year’s team, and the Lady Bearcats enter the 2019 season with only two seniors on the roster — catcher Kenedee Gist and center fielder Skylar Simmel. Gist hit .463 last year with 18 RBIs and 53 runs while Simmel hit .295 with 13 RBIs and 36 runs.

Junior Brooke Lane (.354, 38 RBIs, 46 runs), sophomore Bailey Stewart (.345, 32 RBIs, 21 runs), sophomore Maiah Morris (.295, 27 RBIs, 16 runs) and sophomore Paige Cox (.274, 11 RBIs, 27 runs) are among those who return after playing significant roles last season.

Then, of course, there’s junior pitcher Christine Billmeier, who has dominated the competition the past two seasons. Billmeier, a Sam Houston State commit, is the backbone of the Lady Bearcats’ lineup and is coming off a season in which she hit .505 with 57 RBIs and went 27-5 with a 1.77 ERA and 322 strikeouts in 198 innings pitched.

Billmeier had nine strikeouts in three innings against Argyle to open the season, and she went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double and six RBIs.

“I just hope for her to continue to progress and get better,” Ramsey said. “She spends a lot of time working on her own and working with us. She’s very driven and does everything she can to get better. We’re just looking forward to her taking that next step and being just a little bit better than she was last year.”

In addition to Billmeier’s hot start, the Lady Bearcats had three players with three hits in the season opener — Gist, Lane and Cox — and freshman Gracie Clark went 1-for-2 with two RBIs and a walk.

As good as Pilot Point is expected to be this year, Ramsey is constantly preaching to his team the importance of staying grounded and focusing on the present rather than looking ahead to the postseason.

Ramsey has reminded his team on several occasions of the 2014 season, when Pilot Point was bounced in the first round of the playoffs a year after winning the Class 2A state championship.

In 2015, the Lady Bearcats fought their way back to the regional finals before missing out on the playoffs altogether in 2016. Pilot Point has advanced to at least the regional quarterfinals in each of the plast two seasons.

“They hear it from me all the time,” Ramsey said. “They know last year isn’t going to give us anything. We’re even with everybody else and everybody is working toward the same thing. Hopefully these kids will just continue to stay focused and work hard and continue to grow and get better.”

Aubrey Lady Chaparrals

Coach: Shon Ranton

District: 11-4A

2018 Record: 15-9

Key Returners: Jessica Grimes, Jr., 3B; Nia Bengtzen, So., SS; Hannah Howell, Sr., 1B; Lexie Roos, Jr., C; Laney Roos, Jr., P

Key Newcomers: Emma Spears, So., 2B; Lauren Trott, Fr., CF

2019 Outlook: Aubrey struggled to find consistency last year as it finished 15-9 and was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. With a strong core of returners, including Laney Roos, Lexie Roos, Bengtzen, Howell and Grimes, Aubrey hopes to return to the level of play it experienced while winning 28 games in 2017.

“I feel that our outfield play will be better this year,” Ranton said. “At times last year, it was suspect. The infield will be the overall strength of the team, and I am looking forward to seeing them perform.”

Argyle Lady Eagles

Coach: Kevin Cook

District: 8-4A

2018 record: 13-11

Key Returners: Ainsley Cindric, Sr., 3B; Lanie Rogers, Jr., P; Abby Williams, Jr., 2B; Lilly Coleman, So., SS

Key Newcomers: Hailey Clark, Fr., C; Pressley Allen, Fr., UTIL; Lauren Faria, Fr., UTIL

2019 Outlook: After advancing to the postseason for the second straight year for the first time in school history and knocking off Dallas Pinkston in the first round of the playoffs, Argyle’s expectations continue to raise entering this season.

“We should be better all-around than we were last year,” Cook said. “Our pitching is going to be better, and I have most of my infield returning. We hope to improve our hitting, so we can perform well against these big-time pitchers from Decatur and Krum.”

“We’re really positive about this season. They want to be the first team to go to the playoffs three years in a row and start a tradition like a lot of our other sports programs.”

Liberty Christian Lady Warriors

Coach: Alex Smith

District: TAPPS 1-6A

2018 record: 18-14

Key Returners: Gracie Arthur, Sr., P; Sydney Hughes, Sr., 1B/C; Taylor Skaggs, Jr., C/3B; Hannah Taylor, Jr., OF; Harper Newlan, So., SS/P; Peyton Sanderson, Jr., UTIL

Key Newcomers: N/A

2019 Outlook: Liberty Christian is coming off a banner year in which it went 13-2 in district play and notched a sweep of Dallas Bishop Lynch, a program that is typically a thorn in the Lady Warriors’ side. Smith said she is excited given she lost only three starters from that team. Much of Liberty’s hopes will rest on the likes of four-year starting pitcher Arthur, Sanderson and Skaggs.

“I’d say we should do fairly well in district this year,” Smith said. “It’s just a matter of keeping everyone healthy along the way.”

Krum Lady Cats

Coach: Tiffany Brown

District: 8-4A

2018 Record: 17-11

Key Returners: Lindsay Beutnagel, Sr., P/1B; Kamryn Downhour, Sr., SS; Jayce Bolin,So., LF

Key Newcomers: Raylee Carey, Fr., C; Kennedy Brooks, Fr., 2B/P

2019 Outlook: Brown may appear to have her work cut out for her with four freshman expected to start this year. But just two seasons removed from its first state title, Krum isn’t altering its expectations.

“I expect a lot out of them no matter what,” Brown said. “I think we have some really good, new players who will go out there and contribute; I think a lot of people will underestimate us.”

Ponder Lady Lions

Coach: Callie McQueen

2018 Record: 17-20

Key Returners: Baylie Baumann, Jr., C; Kaylee Adler, Sr., 3B; Braidyn Burr, So., P

Key Newcomers: Sterling Wilkinson, So., INF; Emily Garite, So., OF

2019 Outlook: Despite having a senior-led team in 2018, the Lady Lions return almost their entire infield talent, as well as Burr in the circle. Along with the returners, McQueen said the development of young players, such as Wilkinson and Garite, will help Ponder fill some of the shoes of the seniors it lost. McQueen said there will be three new players in the outfield, which carries some uncertainty with it. However, with five seniors on this team, McQueen said she isis excited to see this team build off of last year and grow as a unit.

“Faith is a really key word for us right now,” McQueen said. “Having a new outfield is teaching my older players to have faith in the young girls throughout this offseason.”

Sanger Lady Indians

Coach: Michelle Booker

District: 11-4A

2018 Record: 11-8

Key Returners: Kimberland Hopson, Jr., C; Mercedes Ibarra, So., UTIL; Stevie Neuman, P, Sr

Key Newcomers: Riley Ferguson, Fr., SS; Alexa Almejo, Fr., 3B

2019 Outlook: Sanger hired former Pilot Point assistant Booker as its new coach this past June after Jae McMinn stepped down. Sanger won its bi-district round of the playoffs against Dallas Carter last year before losimg 4-3 in the area round against Celina. Neuman will be the leader of Sanger’s pitching staff this season after starting last year at first base. The senior has not pitched in a few years, but Booker said she has been working on her craft and has a great defense playing behind her.

“Defensively, we’ve looked pretty solid so far,” Booker said. “Since we have an inexperienced pitcher, our defense is going to have to be our strength, so we can back her up and support her on the field.”

Lake Dallas Lady Falcons

Coach: Amber Tramp

2018 Record: 4-17

Key Returners: Aubrey Meyers, Jr., OF/P; Kennedy Dugan, Jr., OF; Madison Craig, So., P; Morgan Burgess, Jr., C

Key Newcomers: Shelby Nelson, Fr., C; Blakelyn Erwin, Fr., INF

2019 Outlook: Lake Dallas struggled last season, but two key returning pitchers promise to help guide this team to more success in 2018. It’s a junior-heavy team, pairing experience with youth, and Tramp said she is is excited to see the improvement and experience translate on the field. She also stressed the importance of chemistry on this team, and it’s something that already has taken strides.

“We are a team made up of mainly juniors who have a positive impact on the majority of our program,” Tramp said. “This class has done a really nice job welcoming the incoming freshman and making them feel right at home in our program. This has changed the daily energy throughout our program, and it has been fun to see these girls bond and show up each day ready to work for each other.

BRADY KEANE can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @BradyKeane. Contributing writers Matthew Brune, Steve Gamel and Bronte Hermesmeyer contributed to this report.

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