McPherson High’s girls softball team has not been the runaway freight train that everybody expected.
With seven starters back from a big-hitting team that finished second in Class 4A Division I last year, the Bullpups were expected to run roughshod through their regular season with few blips.
A season-opening split at Augusta, which defeated them for the state title last year, offered optimism. In fact, there were many who thought the Bullpups might go off on a serious run.
But in several instances, the Bullpups were haunted in games by one bad inning where they simply couldn’t get teams off the field, giving them four and five outs with errors. MHS gave up a staggering 46 unearned runs this season, uncharacteristic for a team with so many veterans and longtime starters.
The result was a so-so 11-9 regular season, but the Bullpups can erase that malaise by winning their Class 4A Division I regional Tuesday in Andale.
While the first-round games should be a mere formality, the championship game is expected to be one of the best in the state.
MHS is expected to get past 3-15 Hays in the 3 p.m. game, while Andale-Garden Plain should make quick work of 1-19 Buhler in the other game. The title game will be sometime after 4:30.
MHS and Andale-Garden Plain met earlier this year, with the Indians winning both games at home, though the Bullpups let the first game get away.
Andale-Garden Plain started slowly this year with just a 3-5 record through eight games, but it has relocated its old form since then by going 9-1. The Indians have one of the premier programs in the state, having won four state championships since 2008, including three in a row from 2010-2012.
The Bullpups will have had nearly two weeks to get ready for the regional.
“We are going to take one game at a time and focus on error-free defense behind our pitchers,” said MHS coach Danica Fitzmorris, who led the Bullpups to their first-ever state appearance last year. “This past week we have focused on hitting, because we think that is what is going to win us games. The team is looking forward to regional play, with the hopes that we leave no regrets on the field.”
Fitzmorris did not say who would pitch the opener. Madison Hoffman (6-4, 3.99 ERA) is the team’s ace, but she would probably like to save her for Andale-Garden Plain. Bailea Crist (3-1, 3.76) emerged as the team’s No. 2 starter the second half of the season and could possibly start against Hays. Elle Schrag (2-4, 3.84) also is available.
The Bullpups compiled a .323 team batting average, led by a robust .434 by Chelsey Kerr (three homers, five doubles, two triples, 18 RBIs). Other top marks are Hannah Marshall (.380, 22 RBIs), Crist (.373, two homers, six triples, five doubles), Jasmine Wann (.309, four homers, 19 RBIs) and Stephanie Farney (.333, nine RBIs).
As much as offense is the linchpin for the team, more than likely McPherson will advance to Salina or stay home due to its defense. It has to make the routine plays, especially in the outfield.
The state tourney is May 28-29 at Bill Burke Complex.