As the regional playoff host with the gaudy regular-season record, it might be easy to assume Free State High’s 17-3 softball team is the heavy favorite to win two games today at home and move on to the Class 6A state tournament.
But FSHS coach Lee Ice doesn’t want his Firebirds overlooking anyone as they prepare for a 3 p.m. semifinal against No. 7 seed Junction City (4-16).
“The first part of the season is over,” Ice said. “What we accomplished in going 17-3 really has nothing to do with what we accomplish from here on.”
And though No. 3 seed Olathe Northwest (14-6), which will face No. 6 Lawrence at 4:45, doesn’t have the win total of Free State, Ice said the Ravens could still be considered the favorite among the four teams to win a regional title.
“They have the experience in the postseason that we don’t have,” Ice said of an ONW program that has played in five straight state tournaments, winning the 6A championship in 2009 and 2011.
Because there is so much going on this time of year, with finals and graduation, Ice said it can be challenging to keep players focused on the task at hand — and that is where ONW could have an advantage.
Today’s games will dictate what comes next for Free State, and Ice doesn’t want to put any pressure on the players. He trusts his lineup of A’Liyah Rogers, Emily Bermel, Emily Byers, Whitney Rothwell, Courtney Parker, Meredith Morris, Remington Samuels, Lily Ross and Kylie Cobb. Plus, Free State’s pitching and defense have been reliable all season. Junior Kaley Delg will throw against JCHS, and Ice expects his team’s defense and potent lineup to help her out.
“You’ve got to have all of that,” he said, “to keep moving forward.”
The Firebirds have played loose almost all season and Ice wants more of the same today. The only time he saw them get tight was against eventual Sunflower League champion Olathe East, and FSHS suffered its only league loss, 7-1.
Lions healthy for rematch with Ravens
As the No. 6 seed at the regional, Lawrence might not be as heralded as its semifinal opponent ONW or host FSHS, but Lions coach Nick Wood said that won’t discourage his team.
“We know at the end of the day that we have to worry about us,” the coach said. “We can only control how we play.”
LHS (8-12) might not have much margin of error. Wood said it will take the Lions’ best 14 innings of softball this season to eliminate the Ravens and, possibly, rival Free State. Seems like quite a challenge.
“We know we have it in us,” Wood added.
The Lions’ optimism has a lot to do with their health. When they played host to Olathe Northwest on April 16, and lost, 10-2, they were adjusting to the absence of injured second baseman and leadoff hitter Kenzie Garvin.
“We were searching for our identity, trying to figure out who we were,” Wood said.
Now Garvin is back to complement the rest of the LHS lineup — Marly Carmona, Morgan Byrn, Kristen Gile, Andrea Mills, Sami Buffalomeat, Katie Murrish, Jolona Shield and Trisha Bell — and pitcher Megan Sumonja.
The Lions were down 3-2 in the fifth inning the first time they played ONW before making a series of mistakes.
“We feel good about the fact that we’re coming at them full strength this time,” Wood said.