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Ex-Henderson standout opts for national title over graduation

By Jack Stallard
May 20, 2014 at 11 p.m.

Tessa Thomas is 0-for-2 on graduations, but she's batting a solid .333 on softball championships.

Thomas, a former Henderson High School standout, was a key player on the Angelina College softball team that won the NJCAA World Series over the weekend in St. George, Utah. A sophomore at Angelina, Thomas missed the school's graduation ceremony on Friday while her team won a couple of games to reach Saturday's championship round.

The Lady Roadrunners returned home late Sunday, and on Monday a reception was held at Shands Gymnasium to celebrate the school's first national championship. Thomas, one of two sophomores on the team, was decked out in her graduation gown and received her diploma from college president Larry Phillips during the ceremony.

Two years ago, Thomas helped lead Henderson to the championship of the UIL State Softball Tournament, which meant she missed her school's graduation ceremony. She received her high school diploma on the diamond at McCombs Field following the title game.

"I thought I was going to get to graduate this year, but instead we went to the national tournament. I'd much rather do that, anyway," Thomas said. "I hope to graduate from Texas A&M in two years. Who knows?"

Thomas played her freshman season of college softball at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, helping lead that team to a berth in the NJCAA World Series. She transferred to Angelina during the offseason.

"I left TVCC on good terms. I just wasn't the place for me," Thomas said. "I just didn't feel like I belonged there. I knew this was going to be my last year, and my goal was to play somewhere I knew I could have the best possible experience. I think I picked the right place."

Thomas hit .348 as a senior at Henderson with 17 doubles, a home run and 19 RBI. She helped lead the Lady Lions to a 30-9 record during a season that saw Henderson defeat Liberty Hill (3-0) at the state semifinals before falling to Hudson (8-4) in the championship game.

After playing one season at TVCC, she said she emailed Angelina coach Mark Mattson to see if his young team was interested in a veteran catcher.

"I knew him from playing against Angelina at TVCC," Thomas said. "I liked his coaching style, and I liked the way he talked to the players."

In return, Angelina got a player who had been on the big stage in high school and college, one who would eventually hit .263 with two doubles and three RBIs in six World Series games while playing solid defense and providing leadership.

That leadership role came into play during the championship game against Central Florida on Saturday.

With her team leading 8-2, Thomas gathered the team together for an impromptu chat between innings. Thomas said she often did that to give the team a "mental break" and a chance to refocus.

Mattson said it was simply a leader being a leader.

"She's one of our only sophomores, and she's played long enough to know how fast things can change in a game," Mattson told a reporter after the game. "She's been a leader for us all year long. She doesn't say a lot, but when she does, it's usually something important."

Thomas said she has no immediate plans to continue playing softball at Texas A&M, but is leaving her options open.

That means family and friends might want to be ready to scramble when it comes to graduation ceremonies in 2016.

<em>(Follow Jack Stallard on Twitter: <a href="" target="_blank">@lnjsports</a>)</em>



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