As Valley Center’s softball team embarked on a new season with numerous positions to fill, sophomore Wylie Glover wasn’t enthused about her spot on the dugout bench.
A stress fracture in her left shin, diagnosed in December, healed slower than Glover hoped. Multiple visits to the doctor yielded the same message: Give it more time.
“I wish I could’ve played,” Glover said. “It definitely taught me not to take anything for granted.”
Glover missed the Hornets’ first six games as her team went 4-2. She eventually was cleared to play on April 20, one day before a doubleheader against Salina South.
Since then, Glover has played an important role for the Hornets, batting a team-best .465. After regional victories over Newton and Salina South last week, Valley Center (14-5) will make its first appearance in the Class 5A tournament since 2011 when it plays unbeaten Topeka Seaman on Thursday at Two Rivers Youth Complex.
The Hornets entered their 10th season under coach Corey Jones uncertain about the possibility of a state appearance. Valley Center graduated a quartet of four-year starters last season and entered this season with just one senior, outfielder Hannah Headley. The season opened with an infield made up of freshmen and sophomores.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Jones said. “I knew it could be a pretty good group. Whether they all came together would be another story.”
Jones saw one of the first positive signs in an early-season doubleheader split with Hutchinson. After fumbling through a 14-5 loss, the Hornets rebounded to win the nightcap 4-3.
Glover’s return two weeks later allowed Jones to begin molding his lineup. The Hornets hit their stride down the stretch, entering state with eight victories in their last nine games.
“I think we knew as we got closer to the end of this season that we knew we had what it took,” Glover said.
Glover, who also has a team-leading .500 on-base percentage, has settled in at the top of the lineup with sophomore LaTaylah Perez, who is batting .379, and freshman Taylor Rowley, the Hornets’ top power threat at .441 with three home runs, three triples and six doubles.
Sophomore Kaylee Burnett is batting .394, but made a bigger impact on the mound in the regional championship with 13 strikeouts in a 5-1 victory over Salina South.
Burnett (8-2) has 66 strikeouts in 62 innings, while another sophomore, Ashlyn Jacobs, is 6-3 with a 1.17 ERA.
The Hornets sandwiched a pair of four-game winning streaks around an 8-0 loss to 5A qualifier Goddard down the stretch. In those victories, Valley Center outscored its opponents 68-9 and didn’t allow more than two runs in any of the games.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Jones said. “Everybody knows what their role on the team is now. For being a young team, we really are experienced.”
The Hornets will face a Seaman team that enters the 5A tournament with a 22-0 record for the second consecutive season. The Vikings have been to state each of the last nine seasons.
“We really don’t care who we play,” Glover said. “It’s a softball game and we’ll treat it like that from now until the time we play.
“I think we’re all excited because just being in the state tournament is incredible. No matter what, we’re going to have fun with it.”
AREA TEAMS IN STATE SOFTBALL TOURNAMENTS
Derby (16-6) is on an 11-game winning streak, six players hit over .400 and Kourtney Richardson, Kenzie Young and Kori Tullis have speed in the outfield. Pitchers Ashlynn Godown (9-3, 1.71 ERA) and Carly Gum (7-3, 3.46 ERA) are two of the team’s top hitters, too.
Hutchinson (16-6) is led by P Kacia Hilty (7-0, 1.30 ERA, .523 batting average) and SS Shayla DeGarmo (.520). The Salthawks beat Goddard, Maize, Valley Center and Derby.
Wichita Northwest (18-4) started the season 14-0 but was swept by Carroll and Maize. The Grizzlies’ top players are senior Alex Jennings (12-4, 82 strikeouts, .492 batting average), sophomore Kassidy Blevins (.531, 32 RBIs) and 3B Kellie Atlee (.472, 28 RBIs).
Carroll (22-0), four-time defending champ, has the state’s best home-run hitter in Oklahoma signee senior P-1B Brittany Finney (36 career homers, 11-0 on mound), along with Colorado State signee Lauren Buchanan (.612, 55 RBIs) and junior RF Briana Hogan (.550, 9 homers).
Goddard (19-2) has a tough lineup with SS Miranda Rohleder (.584, 6 homers), P Julisa Ortega (.421, 12-2 on mound, 0.73 ERA), CF Brianna Fuchs and 2B Talli Shepherd (.347).
Andale-Garden Plain (14-6) is led by senior P Kaitlin Ellis (2.82 ERA), senior C Bayley Horsch, sophomore P-SS Bailey Bugner (.417) and freshman 2B Kassidy Eck (.500, 13 stolen bases).
Defending champion Augusta (18-4) lost its first game and won 12 straight. The Orioles have a potent offense — .432, 88 extra-base hits. Brooke Eberhardt hits .642, Carley Phillips .538 and Morgan Kirk .481.
Mulvane (12-8), making its fourth trip to state in six seasons, is led by P Haley Hayes (.362, 11-3 on mound), who has battled an arm injury most of the season.
Clearwater (17-3), second last year, is led by P Sarah Teufel, P Sophia Cowden, 2B Hayley Reibenspies (.474), C Elise Oberlechner (.438), 3B Sydney Warren (.414) and 1B Charlie Troll (25 RBIs).
Haven (20-3) is led by CF Samantha Stallbaumer (.643 batting, 52 SBs), 3B Jacy Ummel (.468, 45 RBIs), C Katelynn Stucky (.585, 6 HR) and P Bailey Brawner (18-3, 63 strikeouts).
Hillsboro (22-1), which finished second in 2-1A in 2014 and won 3A in 2012, is led by pitchers Allie Weber (9-0, .410 batting average) and Julie Sinclair (11-1, 0.70 ERA, .406 batting). Other top hitters are CF Emily Jost (.431), C-2B Madison Klein (.551) and C-2B Bradli Nowak (.500).
Lyons-Chase (18-5), fourth the past two seasons, is led by SS Brenna McClure (29 RBIs, 31 stolen bases), 2B Morgan Michaelis (.520), P Laura Pineda (1.05 ERA, 65 strikeouts) and Brooke Johnson (29 runs).
Cedar Vale-Dexter (20-3), on a nine-game winning streak, relies on P Carlie Bratcher (13-2, 1.36 ERA, 150 strikeouts), Demi Ames (15 SBs), Courtney Kuntz (26 SBs) and Hailey Reed (20 SBs).
Medicine Lodge (19-2) earned its fifth trip to the postseason since 2001 and is led by four-year P Morgan Myers (1.63 ERA, .607 batting), C Taylor Stull and SS Molly Miller (.509).
Moundridge (14-9) is led by seniors C Baylie Blouin, P-3B Emily Knight, SS Michelle Schrag (.475), P-3B Elizabeth Ratzlaff and sophomore leadoff hitter Chelsey Knight (.381).