After grounding out to the pitcher in her first at-bat, Lauren Johnson came back to the dugout with a message for her teammates that even she said sounded crazy.
“I’m going to hit it over next time,” Johnson said.
In the top of the third, Johnson came back up and sent a three-run moonshot over the fence. It set the tone for the game and the season as Maize South went on to start 2019 with a 7-3 win over Derby.
Derby hasn’t missed the Class 6A state tournament in eight straight years and finished last year 20-3. The Mavericks have made a habit of beating the state’s best teams and are already back at it this season.
Over the past two seasons and one game in 2019, Maize South has beaten defending 6A champion Free State twice, Bishop Carroll twice and Maize in a regional championship to get back to state for the first time since 2014.
Senior pitcher Ashlie Thissen has been in the circle for most of those victories and was again Tuesday in her final season-opener at Maize South.
She said last year’s 12-4 win over the rival Eagles helped define the program and has given the Mavericks confidence that has carried over.
“We can play with the top teams,” Thissen said. “The freshmen coming in, they know what we have done, and they know what they have to do to step up and beat those big teams.”
Johnson said though the Mavs are feeling good after a win over Derby, there is more to come.
The last time the Mavericks won a game in the state tournament was that 2014 season. They made it to the Class 5A championship game against Bishop Carroll and got run-ruled 11-0.
“We have had some big wins, but at the same time, we aren’t still sitting around thinking about that,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t define the Maize South Mavericks.”
Johnson and Thissen are almost inarguably Maize South’s two most valuable players. Johnson is signed to play in the outfield at Wichita State upon her graduation and is a three-time All-Metro selection.
Thissen committed to Newman before flipping to Washburn. She has the ability to take over a game and shut down even the most loaded lineups.
Tuesday, she — as most pitchers do — started getting shaky in the fifth inning. Through four, Derby had few answers and were held off the scoreboard.
As the Panthers mounted a comeback, Thissen and her freshman catcher Emma Edwards made an adjustment, moved the ball around the zone, and held them at bay.
She closed the game with a strikeout.
But the duo isn’t alone. Juniors Carley Sterneker and Kylee Yocum launched solo home runs in the win. Senior Alyssa Kerr is a four-year starter at third base. And several other underclassmen contribute to the cause.
Coach Mike Tinich said the Mavericks’ bats can hang with anyone in Kansas. It comes down to consistency.
Derby beat Wichita Northwest 15-7 in game 1 of Tuesday’s triangular. Linear logic would say the Mavericks should have no problem against the Grizzlies in the nightcap.
They lost 16-12.
“We’ve been together all of six days,” Tinich said. “Ashlie is willing to put the ball on the ground because she trusts every one of those girls to make the play. That changes her pitching. She can make the ball dance and doesn’t have to try to blow it by somebody.”
The Mavericks aren’t putting too much stock into a game 1 win, even over such a powerful team like Derby. They have been there; 2019 is a matter of doing that.
“I feel like we are all confident in ourselves, so it wasn’t really a surprise to us,” Johnson said. “We knew if we played the way we know we can play, we would pull it out.”