The Cheney softball team has found the perfect mix this season.
Emily Monson isn’t an overpowering, strikeout pitcher, but she knows how to bait hitters into swinging at the pitches she wants them to and she is backed up by what coach Matt Johnson calls the best defense he’s ever had in Cheney.
The combination has led the Cardinals to a 20-1 record and back in the Class 3A tournament for the second time in program history, this time as a No. 3 seed. Cheney will play Marysville in the first round Thursday in Manhattan.
“When you have a good pitcher and a great defense behind her, then it’s hard to lose,” Johnson said. “They just feed off each other when they’re out there on the field. Our defense knows Emily is going to be solid, then she knows the defense behind her isn’t going to give up runs. When you have that kind of confidence, you can be a pretty good team.”
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After serving as a Game 2 pitcher last season, Monson has tried to become the team’s workhorse. She is 17-0 with a 2.58 ERA.
“I just think the team needs to have a pitcher step up and do that,” Monson said. “I just want to do whatever I can to help my team win.”
Johnson was impressed in the second game of doubleheaders when Monson would dig down and find a way to get through one more inning.
“You would think teams would have timed her after seeing her for that many pitches,” Johnson said. “But she just kept finding ways and that’s the kind of kid that I need on the mound. She’s a gamer.”
Cheney has produced more than enough support, as players such as Kennedy Higgins, Kristen Wewe, Kallie Jones, Amy Akler, Taryn Lonker, and Delaney Lorenz have stood out at the plate.
But it has been their defense that gives them the confidence they can win this week.
“At the start of the season, we were still all kind of figuring it out,” Jones said. “But I think the last few weeks we have really stepped up our game on defense and we are definitely looking like a state team now.”
Lorenz, who plays third base, and Jones, the shortstop, came up with numerous big plays on the left side of the defense. Akler in the outfield also produced a momentum-swinging catch in the team’s 1-0 win over Douglass in the regional championship game.
There’s enough momentum where Johnson feels like the team will be able to carry it over into the state tournament.
“They have been dominating and not letting anything by them,” Johnson said. “Girls stepping up like that has been our mantra all year long. I really do feel like the girls believe they can make ever play possible right now because they’re playing with that much confidence in themselves and in each other.”