Things already look a lot different for the Sherman and Denison softball teams and there is still the second round of the district schedule still to come.

Instead of seeing the Lady Bearcats and the Lady Yellow Jackets at the bottom of the district standings, the rivals are currently near the top heading into their first meeting of the season as Denison (9-11, 4-1) hosts Sherman (13-10, 3-2) to close out the first half of District 5-5A action tonight at 5 p.m. at Denison High School.

“It’s a big game,” Denison head coach Mike Garcia said. “It’s the first time in a while it’s meant something.”

If the teams simply do what they did through the first five district games, they will both be in the playoffs. And regardless of who comes away with the win tonight, they will both be playing meaningful games until they face off again in the season finale on April 21 at Old Settlers Park.

A year ago they were the last two teams in the district standings and five and six games, respectively, from the last playoff spot. Already Denison has won more games overall than a year ago and doubled its district win total.

“That’s the good thing about this group,” Garcia said. “We have a great core of leaders and it trickles down. We have real good chemistry right now. That’s an important factor. Putting together a vision at the beginning of the year, if we do what we did the first half, we’ll reach that first goal of making playoffs.”

Sherman has equaled both its overall win total and district victories from 2016 with seven games left this season.

“From the very beginning our five seniors put in place the goal to make the playoffs,” Sherman head coach Brenda Samuels said. “They’re coachable. They’re back in comfortable spots. They’re excited.”

It sets up a crucial match-up that could either see the Lady Jackets put a stranglehold on second-place or have the Lady Bearcats pull alongside their rivals and in possession of the tie-breaker until they meet again.

Denison had a chance to gain sole possession of first place in a battle of district unbeatens this past Friday but Denton Ryan remained on top of the standings with a 7-5 victory. Kaylee Walters was 2-for-4 with a home run, double and scored twice, Elizabeth Linwood was 2-for-3 with a double and scored, Yvette Moreno drove in a run and Olivia Marr and Danielle Sullivan each scored.

The Lady Jackets were down 7-2 after four innings before Denison scored twice in the fifth and then Walters homered in the seventh — her sixth of the season.

“Knowing we competed against them and we have a chance against them the next time, it stokes the fire a little bit,” Garcia said.

A pair of freshmen are among the leading hitters for the Lady Jackets. Linwood is setting the pace by batting .460 with seven doubles and 10 RBI while Jaci Garvin is third on the team with a .379 average. In between them is senior Jaydan Hunt, who sports a .420 average and a team-best 20 RBI. Juniors Kayla Daugherty (.373) and Walters (.371) round out the Denison hitters over .320.

“They’ve done a great job. They know their roles,” Garcia said. “They now have that comfort level.”

Sherman had to rally to avoid losing to last-place Wichita Falls at home on Friday. Natalie Carrasco tripled, drove in two runs and scored, Kaylee Walker was 2-for-3, Jessica Bridges doubled, scored and picked up the victory, Tobi Torres scored twice and Kaitlin Bang and Jayla Goodman scored.

Wichita Falls took a 3-0 lead in the second inning before the Lady Bearcats scored three times in the fourth to jump in front for good, 4-3, before tacking on a couple of insurance runs in the sixth.

“They’re in situations where they’re learning something every single game and it’s giving them confidence,” Samuels said.

The leading hitters in the Sherman lineup are Bridges with a .493 average, Jill Dixon is at .474 with a team-high 11 doubles and 27 RBI, Kenna Ferguson is batting .462 and Walker is at .397.

“They have the ability. They have the skill,” Samuels said. “The mental part of the game is the toughest part for softball and baseball. They have truly worked really hard in their mental game.”