A pair of area schools will be heading to the Class A softball tournament in Shawnee later this week.
Morrison and Ripley will be playing at the Ballfields at Firelake beginning Thursday.
The state brackets were announced Monday afternoon. Morrison will play Roff at 1 p.m. Thursday on Field No. 2. Ripley will face Tushka on the same field in the next game, beginning at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
Morrison made history when it swept its regional games that it hosted Thursday and Friday. The Lady Wildcats earned a berth to the fast-pitch softball tournament for the first time in their program history, and they did it on their home field in front of a large, supportive crowd.
“I don’t think anybody started thinking about it until the final strike and the game was over,” Morrison coach JT Freeman said. “Certainly, once the game was over, they were excited. We literally had about half of the community out there. The schools all let out and brought the kids over, so it was a really awesome atmosphere. It’s really special because it’s the first time.”
Morrison (30-4) crushed Pioneer-Pleasant Vale, 16-0, in its first game of the regional. Later that day, Morrison took care of business against Stuart, winning 10-3 and advancing to Friday’s championship game.
On Friday, the Lady Wildcats avoided an if-necessary game by defeating Stuart, 10-3, and clinching a state berth.
“I thought they played great,” Freeman said. “We’ve won 22 games in a row, so we’ve been playing good softball for a while. They did a great job.
“I think there were some nerves at the start. I think in the first game and in the championship game, it took us one time through the order to work some nerves out. There were a lot of young girls out there, and it was their first time to be in that environment. I certainly think they were able to overcome those jitters and compete at a high level.”
Morrison has scored 10 or more runs in its past seven games. Morrison outscored its opponents 40-6 in the three regional games.
“We swung it really well,” Freeman said. “We had 47 hits in the three games. We talk all the time about how good hitting is contagious, and right now we’re getting good hitting up and down the lineup.”
The Lady Wildcats enjoyed the weekend away from the softball field before coming back to practice Monday. They’ll practice three days before heading to Shawnee for the state tournament Thursday afternoon.
“I told the kids to enjoy this week and take every pat on the back they can get, because they’ve earned it,” Freeman said. “They deserve it. But it’s going to be back to work when it’s time to work. We’re certainly happy to be there, but it’s not a happy to be there situation. We think we’re good enough to go compete, and give ourselves a chance to be a state champion if the ball falls the way we need it to.”
Ripley is headed back to state for the second-straight season. The Lady Warriors finished as state runners-up last year.
Their road to this year’s state tournament wasn’t easy. In fact, they made it as difficult as possible by losing their first game as the top seed at their own regional.
“I was really pleased with how our girls responded to that,” Ripley coach Kaleb Hoffman said. “After getting beat in game one, they decided that our backs are against the wall and we’ve got to find a way to get it done. They banded together and there was no hanging our heads, and they found a way to grind out at-bat after at-bat, taking it one inning at a time and won four in a row.”
Ripley (31-6) began its regional Wednesday with a 2-1 loss to No. 4 seed Waukomis. Ripley was forced to win the remainder of its games, because another loss would have ended its season.
Hoffman said he couldn’t blame the loss on his team not focused. He said the ball just didn’t bounce its way at times.
“I felt like we were ready,” Hoffman said. “Waukomis is a very quality team, but it was just one of those games we couldn’t catch a break. We hit some balls hard, but when we did they were hit right at them. We played well enough to win, but we just couldn’t catch the right break at the right time.”
The Lady Warriors responded to the loss with a 13-1 blowout win over Depew to keep its season alive and play another day.
On Thursday, Ripley avenged its regional loss with a 11-0 win over Waukomis. The Lady Warriors followed that with back-to-back wins over Ringwood, 7-1 and 3-2, to clinch a state berth.
“You could tell their mindset was different,” Hoffman said of the four games after the initial regional loss. “Everybody came out and did their jobs. We came through with big hits at the right time. We were able to open it up and get a five-inning run rule, which saved us some pitches, which was key having to win four in a row.”
Hoffman did credit the cooler temperatures Thursday to helping his team as far as conditioning having to play three games that day. He said experience gained last year played a factor, too.
“Being blessed with a 65-degree day sure helped out on Thursday,” Hoffman said. “Not having to contend with the 90-degree-plus heat sure helped us.
“I think that helped having that experience from the girls who went to the state finals last year. They had the mindset that this is the playoffs and nothing is going to come easy. … Our experienced helped. Also, having solid senior leadership helped to pick the girls back up.”
In their five regional games, the Lady Warriors allowed only six runs, while scoring 34 in the four victories. They hadn’t allowed more than one run – other than one game – during its 11 games before the regional. They won 10 of those 11 games, so pitching has been key to their season.
Now, they’ll take that into this week’s state tournament in Shawnee.
“With having to battle back through the regional, that will give us a lot of confidence moving into state,” Hoffman said. “Then, also going to state and playing well last year will give us a lot of confidence, as well.”
Follow News Press sports reporter Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for udpates from Thursday’s Class A State Softball Tournament from The Ballfields at Firelake in Shawnee.