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Three Storylines for State Softball

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By Brad Hallier

 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – From among the most favored to win a state championship, to being maybe the biggest underdog in any state tournament, the storylines are abundant for the five Kansas State High School Activities Association state softball tournaments.

The state tournaments get started Thursday at various locations throughout the state, which takes us into our first storyline.

Hey, can we get more of these kinds of high-caliber sites for state events?

Refreshing. Absolutely refreshing. That’s the best way I can describe seeing Class 6A playing its state tournament at Arrocha Ball Park on the University of Kansas campus, and Class 5A playing at Wilkins Stadium at Wichita State.

This is not a knock on other venues, but Kansas has three Division 1 universities and a handful of professional teams. It’s just bizarro to see so many state events played at the average sports complex. Soccer is the strangest one. The facilities at places like Stryker Sports Complex in Wichita, DeSoto High School and Hummer Sports Park in Topeka are nice. But Children’s Mercy Park – home of Sporting Kansas City – is literally in Kansas. KU and Kansas State have women’s soccer teams and nice facilities. It would be nice to see these facilities use more for state events.

Kudos to KSHSAA for using two D1 facilities for state softball, and three for baseball. Let’s keep upgrading state sites.

Haven is back, looking for that elusive state championship

Haven is an unappreciated state power. That might be because Haven hasn’t won a state championship, but good grief, Haven seems like it’s in the mix every year.

In 2021, Haven reached the Class 3A semifinals and finished third. Same with 2018. Class 4A Division 2 state runner-up in 2016 and 2017.

The trophy case is filling up for coach Darin Ashworth’s program. Can the Wildcats add the biggest trophy? This year’s team has as good of a shot as any.

Haven (22-1) is the top seed at the 3A state tournament and opens with Scott City at 5 p.m. Thursday in Manhattan. If the Wildcats win, they’ll get either Beloit or Santa Fe Trail in the semifinals. State powers Southeast of Saline, Rossville (which beat Silver Lake) and Columbus (from the powerful southeast Kansas area) are on the other side of the bracket.

It should be a fun (and nervous) 24 hours for Haven fans.

Is Hillsboro the biggest underdog?

Before we go calling Hillsboro a USA Hockey-from-1980-like underdog, let’s remind everyone that Hillsboro does have a state championship and several state appearances.

But this year, Hillsboro was unheralded going into regionals. With just a 5-13 record, Hillsboro was seeded seventh in a tough regional. But by playing the likes of Haven, Pratt, Hoisington, Hesston and Halstead, Hillsboro was well-tested, and the Trojans won their three regional games by a combined score of 27-11.

Hillsboro is seeded eighth and will take on undefeated McLouth in the first round at 5 p.m. Thursday in Pratt. McLouth has allowed just nine runs … all season. McLouth has posted 17 shutouts out of 23 wins. Nineteen times, McLouth scored at least 10 runs, and 16 times, at least 15.

McLouth doesn’t just beat opponents. The Bulldogs embarrass opponents. This makes Hillsboro a heavy underdog. But have you ever seen what happens when an underdog doesn’t go away? When the underdog puts on the pressure? Hillsboro has zero pressure.