Varsity Softball

State Softball Recap: Wichita nearly cleans house as 7 teams remain across Kansas

Maize South finds second fire to beat BV Southwest, reach first semifinal since 2014

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 the heart 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.

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Maize South’s Lauren Johnson Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

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.”

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Maize South’s Carley Sterneker Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Goddard redeems itself in state softball quarterfinals behind fun, energetic style

Exactly 364 days ago, Goddard coach Rita Smith hugged her seniors; few Lions were without tears.

Thursday, Goddard players strapped their visors upside down, wore gloves on their heads and beat Wichita Northwest 11-8 in its 2019 Class 5A state softball quarterfinal. The Lions showed to have had more fun than any team in the 5A field.

“Everyone is close with everyone,” senior Gentry Shepherd said. “I don’t think there has ever been a bad day or a team fight. We are always picking each other up.”

The fun-loving attitude starts with the Lions’ coach. Smith is loud during the game. She cheers like a player and reacts like a fan. After Goddard won its regional championship last week, she was the first one the field to celebrate with sophomore pitcher Kendal LeGrand. Afterward she asked whether she looked fast.

Thursday, when LeGrand struck out the game’s final batter, Smith gave a 180-degree fist pump and a yell. But it was for good reason; the win marked Goddard’s first appearance in the state softball semifinals since 2013.

Goddard high school softball coach Rita Smith
Goddard coach Rita Smith Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

“All three of our coaches are just like that,” Shepherd said. “Smith knows how to get us pumped up and never lets us get down on ourselves.”

Shepherd was the game’s most lethal offensive option. Early on, after a 30-minute lightning delay, Shepherd brought the thunder back with two-run home run to crack open the scoring.

And when Goddard needed a spark in the bottom of the fourth, she came through again.

Goddard had gotten out to a six-run lead over Northwest. But the Grizzlies put together a run similar to their regional championship comeback and scored six of their own in the top of the fourth. Momentum was with them.

Then Shepherd stepped up with an RBI double that sparked a tide-changing two-run inning. After the game, the Goddard coaches said that half inning showed what the group was about.

“We could have just laid over and let them take over the game, but for us to come back, it showed that we have a fight in us,” Shepherd said. “We’re not just going to let someone control us.”

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Goddard’s Gentry Shepherd Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

But even during Northwest’s six-run rally, Goddard’s non-starters stood on a bench in the dugout. Two girls wore their gloves as hats. Another had her batting helmet turned backward, and two others turned their visors bottom up.

Last year, Goddard struggled to get batters out in the first inning of its 7-4 first round loss to Mill Valley. The Lions committed two errors against the first two batter they faced.

Thursday, they clinched a date against No. 2 seed Bishop Carroll for the right to play for a state championship.

Goddard already made history with its first state win in six years. The Lions will look to make more Friday morning at Maize High.

“Everyone needs to just do their job and play our game,” Shepherd said. “And we know we can do that.”

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Goddard’s Jazleen Salas, Bailey Kimbell, Anahi Nunez, Lynsey VanMetre and Krystal Castorena Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Carroll whips through state quarterfinal thanks to ‘fastest pitcher in Kansas’

Reagan Smith needed about 75 minutes to push Bishop Carroll to the state semifinals.

The Golden Eagles cruised through Emporia with a 5-0 quarterfinal victory in the Class 5A state softball tournament. Smith didn’t give the Spartans a chance to catch their breath.

Smith is one of the quickest-moving pitchers in the state. She throws a pitch, gets it back from the catcher, turns and walks briskly halfway between the circle and second base. She turns, slaps the ball into her glove, walks back to the rubber and throws again.

She doesn’t get a call from coach Steve Harshberger, and she rarely throws anything other than her patented fastball. She wastes no time and lived up to that expectation on Thursday.

“Tempo-wise, yeah, I’m probably the fastest pitcher in Kansas,” Smith said. “It’s just adrenaline.”

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Bishop Carroll’s Reagan Smith Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Smith said she was trained to move quickly through her pitches. It fits her, and she embraces it. The ball slap is her way of calming down and maintaining her tempo, but outside of that, it’s only onward.

The pace can get Smith in trouble from time to time, she said. She can work too quickly and get ahead of herself, so she has a reminder on the back of her palm that basically says, “Slow down.”

“After every out, we will talk with each other on the field about how many outs are left,” Carroll sophomore Bryant Peppard said. “By the time I’m done with everybody and trying to rejuvenate, she’s already throwing the next pitch.”

Smith was an All-Metro selection as a sophomore last year. She was the youngest player named to the Eagle’s team, but she earned it. On top of her unique pace, she also throws one of the fastest pitches in Kansas. Last year, she finished with a 10-1 record and a .813 ERA with 66 strikeouts and six walks all season.

2019 is her third state tournament and the seniors’ fourth. So after the Eagles clinched the win with a Smith strikeout, they ran to the dugout as if it were the middle of an inning, not the end of a state quarterfinal.

“Reagan is on a mission when she’s out there, she’s focused,” Harshberger said. “We’re not here for this one.”

Carroll will face the winner of Goddard and City League rival Wichita Northwest in the state semifinals. Last year, Carroll lost 11-1 to Shawnee Heights in the state championship game and will be the favorite to get back there again regardless of which opponent it faces in the semifinals.

Earlier this year, Carroll beat Northwest 6-0 twice on the same night, and Goddard hasn’t reached the semifinals round since 2013.

Senior Kaylin Watkins will throw the semifinal, likely leaving Smith fresh for a potential state championship game. She said she wants another crack at it.

“We wanted to win this game of course, but our goal is the championship,” Smith said. “We want to get there, and then we will celebrate.”

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Bishop Carroll’s Isabel Marcotte Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Derby breaks the curse, snaps through to semifinals

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Derby’s Madi Young Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Derby entered 2019 on an eight year streak of state tournament appearances but had only one quarterfinal win to show for it.

Thursday, the Panthers made it nine straight and two wins. They beat Topeka 9-1 to advance to the Class 6A state semifinals against undefeated No. 1 seed Washburn Rural.

The surge came in the bottom of the second as Derby scored five runs and buried T-High early. The Panthers cruised through the back half of the game and picked up a monsterous two-run home run from junior Alexis Enslinger.

Derby’s victory marked its first in the state tournament in six years. the Panthers believe 2019 will be different, and it already has been, but the next step is reaching the state championship game and winning the school’s first softball title.

Indians point arrows toward next round after emphatic win

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Andale/Garden Plain’s Kyla Eck Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

All signs are pointing toward a rematch.

April 29, Augusta traveled to Andale. The teams split a doubleheader, and it is both teams’ only loss this season. Andale/Garden Plain beat Louisburg 10-0 in its Class 4A quarterfinal and made it look easy.

The Indians scored eight runs in the third, and pitcher Rachel Choate never let Louisburg get within scoring opportunity.

The game had have meant more for some of the Andale volleyball players as Louisburg knocked the Indians out of the Class 4A tournament semifinals 12-25, 25-21, 25-14. The two schools have not competed against each other since.

Andale/Garden Plain will play the winner of No. 4 Eudora and No. 5 Rose Hill, who the Indians swept during the regular season.

Augusta holds on in shutout to reach Final Four

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Augusta’s Gracie Johnston Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Gracie Johnston needed to be almost perfect, and she was.

Augusta, the No. 2 seed in Class 4A, held on for a 1-0 win over Anderson County in its state quarterfinal matchup.

Anderson County got a runner to second in the top of the first inning, but Johnston got out of the inning. There was never another threat.

Johnston is arguably the top pitcher in Class 4A. An All-Metro selection last year, she is signed to play at Missouri State next year, but first, she is helping the Orioles to what could be their first state championship since 2015 and fifth in school history.

Augusta plays the winner of Clay Center/Wakefield and Paola. The game was postponed to 11 a.m. Friday because of rain.

Rose Hill hanging on through the night after lightning delay

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Rose Hill’s Emily Adler @adleremily3/Twitter

Rose Hill is still playing.

The Rockets’ first round game against No. 4 Eudora (15-5) was postponed until 11 a.m. Friday in Salina. They lead 2-1 going into the fifth inning.

Rose Hill has won 11 straight, including their 4A regional championship over Wamego. If they win, they would play No. 1 Andale/Garden Plain in the semifinal round.

The Rockets lost both regular season games to the Indians, 7-2 and 12-4.

Cheney out in first round to No. 8 seed

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Cheney’s Taryn Lonker Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Outside of maybe No. 7 Mulvane baseball beating one-loss Trinity Academy, Cheney’s loss to No. 8 Frontenac was the surprise of Thursday.

The top-seeded Cardinals dropped out in the first round with a 6-0 loss. They entered the day with only one loss and hadn’t been shut out in more than four years.

Cheney won its first 19 games of 2019 and didn’t score fewer than four in any of them. The Cardinals scored more than 15 eight times.

Their first loss didn’t come until May 6 to Kingman/Norwich, another Class 3A state qualifier. But Thursday was an outlier.

Blustem can’t sprout past Jayhawk Linn

After finishing third in Class 2-1A last year, Bluestem couldn’t get out of the first round in 2019.

The Lions lost 13-7 to Jayhawk Linn on Thursday in their 2-1A quarterfinal matchup. They led 7-2 through four innings.

Jayhawk Linn went on an 8-run fifth inning to take a 10-7 lead going into the sixth, and by that time, momentum had long rolled Bluestem over.

The Lions finished their season 15-5.

State Brackets

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Wichita Eagle preps reporter Hayden Barber brings the area updates on all high school sports while adding those hard-to-find human-interest stories on Wichita’s student-athletes.