Going into the bottom of the fifth, Ashlie Thissen ran onto the field and delivered a stare through home plate.
With three frames to go, the Maize South senior ace pitcher shut the door against one of the best-hitting teams in Kansas. Maize South had given up a five-run lead but held on for a 7-6 win over Blue Valley Southwest to reach its first Class 5A state high school softball semifinal since 2014.
“From the time we started at the beginning of the season, you could see it in her eyes,” Maize South coach Mike Tinich said. “This was her year. Today she showed it. It looked like that game against Carroll, just that laser focus. Her eyes said, ‘I’m going to win this game.’ She is able to switch it on and go.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Maize South junior Carley Sterneker grabbed a ball and started warming up. Southwest seniors Kori Stonestreet and Hannah Maurer launched multi-run home runs in the third and fourth innings respectively.
But Tinich said there was no doubt who was going back in the circle for the fifth.
“You can tell when she wants it, she gets it,” Tinich said. “We put it on her shoulders and said, ‘Take us home.’ “
Thissen ended the game with a pair of strikeouts through theheart of the Timberwolves’ order. She lost that fire for a couple of innings, but there was no question it was back by the seventh.
Maize South got out to a four-run lead in the top of the first inning and needed all of it. By the top of the sixth inning, still tied at 5, Mavericks junior Leah Self connected on an off-speed pitch and lifted it to right field.
Senior Alyssa Kerr tagged from third and scored, and sophomore Riley Kennedy took advantage of a throwing error to third and came home to give the Mavs a two-run lead.
“The two most important positions in the lineup are your leadoff and No. 9,” Tinich said. “It’s important to set everything up for the top of the lineup, and that’s why we have Leah there. She did a great job of sacrificing. That was something I saw all game today.”
Tinich’s tempo with his words sped up when he started talking about Shawnee Heights. With the Mavericks’ win, they will get another chance at the two-time defending state champion Thunderbirds.
Last year, Maize South reached the state tournament as the No. 8 seed. The Mavs went out to Shawnee Heights 13-3 in the quarterfinal round. Tinich said the ball “looked like a grapefruit” for them.
The Mavericks will look to make it look a little smaller at 11 a.m. Friday at Maize High.
“It took us al ittle whole to get here, but you could see every year we gained a little more confidence,” Tinich said. “This is going to be the group that is going to take us where we want to go and make this an every year thing.
“That was embarrassing last year. Since that game last year, since day 1, this has been the one I’ve circled.”