Varsity Softball

After years of 'almost,' Maize softball believes this is the year

Maize softball's Savannah Hughes runs into her teammates at home plate after hitting a home run in the Eagles' 8-2 win against Derby on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.
Maize softball's Savannah Hughes runs into her teammates at home plate after hitting a home run in the Eagles' 8-2 win against Derby on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. The Wichita Eagle

Spectators on the Maize side of the stands were a little confused.

As Game 2 of the Eagles' doubleheader with Derby wound down with an almost unchallenged 8-2 win and sweep secured, fans couldn't pin down if the Panthers just had a bad day or if their team was that good.

Maize is 9-0, finished 20-3 last season and 16-8 the year before that. The Eagles have created one of the strongest teams in the Wichita area, but they lack one thing.

They have power. First baseman Savannah Hughes is one of the most well-known players in the Wichita area. By the end of her junior season, she had already broken the school's home run record with 25 for her career and 14 on the season.

They have the speed. Pitcher and second baseman Lauryn Ogden was caught in a pickle Tuesday. She dodged and ran to second safe. Third baseman Sadie Ast threw her glove up in disbelief. Both Ogden and Ast return as AVCTL I first-team selections.

They have the experience. Coach Jenny Meirowsky is in her 13th season and leads a roster that graduated only three players and returns eight seniors, five of which received all-league honors last season.

They don't have signature wins.

Carroll has become the benchmark of success in the Wichita area. Before this season, the Eagles had lost one regular-season game in five years. That loss wasn't to Maize. It was to Maize South.

Maize hasn't beaten Carroll since the 2012 season opener. That season ended up holding more history.

That was the last season the Eagles won a game in the state tournament.

Since 2012, Maize is 97-26. The program has produced seven All-Metro selections and qualified for the state tournament three times.

Carroll has been better. In the same time, the Eagles are 116-5, have put 15 players on the All-Metro team and qualified for state every year and won it twice.

The games between Maize and Carroll have gotten closer. In 2014, Maize lost 11-1. Last season, it was 5-3. That has given Maize confidence heading into what Hughes called "The big one" on May 3.

"I think this group is not about to let another loss go by," Meirowsky said. "We have brought up Carroll before. It's one of our goals, and it's something that we work for in practice."

Maize lost 9-7 to a 14-8 Blue Valley Southwest team in the first round of last year's Class 5A tournament. Meirowsky said that team was special because of the skills it brought to the table, and that made it harder to lose in the first round, Hughes said.

"At the end of the day, we went to state and we choked," she said. "We have the same girls that went through the heartbreak, and we don't want to be that team anymore.

"We don't want to be that team that almost made it."

The pieces are back in place. The Eagles are about halfway to the state tournament and have shown no signs of a hiccup, like Carroll, outscoring opponents 96-14.

Hughes said with the group coming back, the power, speed and experience, she is focused on earning those signature wins — so much that she didn't realize she had already captured the career home run record.

"As a senior and a leader, I want to be remembered for winning the games that we haven't before and getting as far as we can in state," she said. "If I get the record, then I get the record, but that's not my goal. My goal is to be dominant."