Kansas’ five softball state tournaments — Class 6A at Blue Valley West, 5A in Wichita, 4A in Salina, 3A in Manhattan and 2-1A in Emporia — will start a day earlier than previous years with the quarterfinals set for today, followed by the semifinals and finals on Friday.
1 Hawks seek 6A repeat
Seven-time Class 6A state champion Olathe East drew the No. 2 overall seed. The Hawks, 21-1, are slotted behind undefeated Topeka Washburn Rural, 22-0, and the Junior Blues could prove to be a significant hurdle. Still, until somebody knocks Olathe East from the throne, it’s fair to call coach Jeff Hulse’s squad the favorites. Arkansas-bound junior Allison Stewart, who went 10-1 with a 0.20 ERA in the regular season, might be the best softball player in Kansas. Senior Jenni Brooks (9-0, 1.00 ERA) is pretty darn good as well. Brooks also led the Sunflower League with a .629 batting average, while Stewart knocked home a league-best 32 RBIs. The Hawks open against Blue Valley Northwest, 13-7, at 3 p.m. today at BV West.
2 SMNW, BVNW seek upsets
Top-seeded Rural’s first-round foe is Shawnee Mission Northwest. The Cougars, 14-8, might not enter state with a glossy record, but ace Katt Cooper gives coach Mark Balderston’s squad a chance against anyone. The Junior Blues haven’t faced a rise-ball pitcher — Cooper’s specialty — in the last two seasons. Meanwhile, BV Northwest hopes sophomore Carly Shniderson can tap the magic she conjured in a pair of shutouts in regional play against Olathe East.
3 Firebirds and Jaguars are lurking
As the No. 3 seed, the pressure at state is off a bit, but that doesn’t mean Lawrence Free State, 19-3, which is seeded third in 6A, and Mill Valley, 17-4, which is seeded third in 5A, don’t harbor championship ambitions. The Firebirds are led by ace Meredith Morris. Courtney Parker hopes to once again power Free State’s offense during the quarterfinals against Derby at 5 p.m. today at BV West. Meanwhile, Mill Valley will continue to ride Lexie Myers in the circle. She hopes to keep Andover Central in check at 7 p.m. today at Two Rivers Youth Complex in Wichita.
4 Miege, De Soto rely on one arm
Also at Class 5A state, Bishop Miege will go as far as its only pitcher, Leah Quick, takes it. She’s only 10-10 with a 3.56 ERA this season, but Quick sparkled in a pair of one-run wins in regional play. Aubry Hernandez (.382, 14 RBIs) and Kaitlyn Gemmill (.324, 11 RBIs) lead the Stags’ attack. Meanwhile, at the Bill Burke Complex in Salina, fourth-seeded De Soto’s hopes in the 4A tourney rest with its ace, Sophia Templin. She is 16-3 with a 1.32 ERA, striking out 111 with 22 walks in 116 2/3 innings. The Wildcats’ potent offense averages 10 runs per game led by Lauren Mabe, who is batting .600 with four home runs and 25 RBIs.
5 Unbeaten small-class teams eye titles
Paola coach Troy Collier thinks the undefeated and top-seeded Panthers, 21-0, are the team to beat at the Class 4A state tournament in Salina. Led by a pair of aces, Kaelah McMullin (9-0, 0.46 ERA) and Molli Morgan (12-0, 0.46 ERA), Paola opens against Mulvane, 14-5. McMullin, who has 13 extra-base hits, is also a force at the plate, powering the offense with a .701 slugging percentage with 26 RBIs. Meanwhile, Oskaloosa, 19-0, drew the No. 3 seed and is one of three unbeaten teams in the Class 2-1A softball state tournament at Trusler Sports Complex in Emporia. Haidyn Bassett (18-0, 0.71 ERA) leads the Bears.
| Tod Palmer, firstname.lastname@example.org