McPherson High’s softball team finally cleared the seemingly unconquerable hurdle last week.
After 27 torturous years, the Bullpups finally earned their first-ever berth to the Class 4A Division I State Tournament, which gets under way on Thursday at Salina’s Bill Burke Complex.
Once the smoke cleared from several regional train wrecks, the 16-6 Bullpups claimed a surprising No. 2 seed, as six of the top eight teams in the state were kicked to the curb by underdogs. Augusta, a team MHS split with this season, emerged from the rubble as the top seed at 18-4.
The Bullpups open tournament play at 5 p.m. Thursday against Wamego. A victory and they would play at 11 a.m. Friday against the Louisburg-Rose Hill winner.
All Bullpup games will be carried by 96.7 KBBE-FM with Nick Gosnell and Steve Sell on the call.
“We realize that even though there have been some articles about a watered-down state bracket in 4A Division I, we will be playing some excellent competition in Salina on Thursday and Friday,” first-year MHS coach Danica Fitzmorris said. “We will not take any game lightly, but go in with confidence in our abilities to hit the ball effectively and play solid defense.”
Fitzmorris said the Bullpups can’t be satisfied with just getting to state, they want to do some damage and raise a banner.
“I think once you get over the hurdle, the ability to stride out feels really good,” she said. “I hope we use this as a stepping stone and keep our program growing in the future. This team is currently and has been capable of this win for the past few years. I heard a quote last weekend from a motivational speaker, Rob Miller, that was presented for athletic leaders at our high school, “The moment the season ended, did you walk away with regrets?” I think these girls would have said ‘yes’ the past couple of years. It is in their core this year, not to have to say that again.”
First-round opponent Wamego is only 11-11, but Fitzmorris said there are no gimmes come state time. She has been able to compile a useful scouting report on the Red Raiders, though she didn’t want to divulge her secrets.
Fitzmorris will send ace pitcher Madison Hoffman (9-3, 3.20 ERA, 2 saves) to the mound for the opener. Hoffman has been nails and while she’s not overpowering, her greatest attribute may be her competitiveness. Fitzmorris said after last week’s regional that she has been the team’s “rock,” the player who seems to handle the pressure the best.
Hoffman (.446, 1 homer, 17 RBIs) also is one of the team’s top hitters. The biggest bat is wielded by Chelsey Kerr, who leads the team with a .527 average and has driven in 27 runs, also a team high. Jasmine Wann (.438, 19 RBIs) and Hannah Marshall (.373, 23 RBIs) are other big bats.
Perhaps a strength of the offense, however, is balance. At the regional, all nine batters in the order contributed at some point, including freshman Gracy Feil in the regional championship game with three RBIs.
Fitzmorris isn’t sure how she’ll set up her rotation for Friday provided the Bullpups win. Elle Schrag (4-1, 3.24 ERA) and Marissa Axleson (3-2, 25 strikeouts in 25 innings) are available to back Hoffman, who would at least figure to start the semifinal game on Friday and she how far she can go.
“We have three options and will weigh them all,” Fitzmorris said. “From now on out we will have to play with the mentality that you can’t win the championship if you don’t get to the final.”
Fitzmorris was one of the reasons there’s softball at MHS in the first place as she was the top player on the Bullpups’ first-ever team in 1987.
“This season has been a dream,” she said. “The girls are so talented and I find myself trying to remember how it felt when I was their age. It was a long time ago, but that inner drive to reach potential never fades. I so wanted it 25 years ago and finally achieving it 25 years later squelches the disappointment that was a young girls' final high school dream not realized. These athletes will never be a memory for me, but a legacy.”
• SCHEDULE •
Two Fields Employed
5:00 — McPherson (16-6) vs. Wamego (11-11); Augusta (18-4) vs. DeSoto (9-13)
7:00 — Fort Scott (15-7) vs. Kansas City Piper (12-8); Louisburg (15-6) vs. Rose Hill (12-10)
Two Fields Employed
11:00 — Augusta-DeSoto winner vs. Fort Scott-Kansas City Piper winner; McPherson-Wamego winner vs. Louisburg-Rose Hill winner
1:00 — 3rd-place game
2:00 — Championship game