With the fall sports season cruising by, it’s that time of the year where softball players, coaches and fans make Hastings their temporary home. The Class A, B and C state tournaments begin Wednesday at the Smith Softball Complex. All three state champions from 2011 return with a chance to repeat. Several other teams are making their first-ever tournament appearances. Here’s a preview of each class:
Millard West enters the state tournament as the No. 1 seed. While other classes may be able to argue about the top seed, in Class A it’s pretty clear cut. The Wildcats have the players and the record to validate their No. 1 seed. Millard West is 28-1 with a schedule that matched the Wildcats up against six of the eight state qualifiers for a total of 13 games, including its first eight games of the season. The only loss on the season came against Millard South in a 6-4 game midway through the year. If there’s one thing the other teams know about Millard West, it’s that the Wildcats can hit the ball.
There are five hitters on the Millard West squad that hit .500 or better during the season, all of which have at least 74 at bats. Senior catcher Marisa Graslewicz leads the team with a .533 average and is tied for a team-high five home runs while also recording 48 hits. Junior Faith Cain’s average is just one point shy of Graslewicz at .532. Cain leads the team with 50 hits and 41 RBIs. She also hit five home runs during the season. Katelyn Klosterman, a senior, hit .511 and drove in 35 runs.
With an offense like that, the Millard West pitchers have to be confident going into every game knowing that one bad pitch most likely won’t cost the Wildcats the game. Senior Taylor Muehlich and sophomore Kristen Van Hoosen recorded 14 wins each during the season. Muehlich was stuck with the Wildcats only loss of the year. Van Hoosen leads the two with an ERA of 2.34.
Millard West’s first opponent will be eighth-seeded Omaha Benson (23-8).
The No. 2 seed of the tournament goes to defending state champion Millard South, which compiled a record of 25-5. Madison Unzicker, a junior catcher, has been one of the most dangerous hitters all year. Unzicker hit .554 this season and homered 12 times to lead Class A qualifiers. She also has 41 RBIs and 40 runs. Sophomore Victoria Kinney is also no stranger to the long ball, hitting eight home runs to go with her .444 average and 33 RBIs.
Sophomore Jordan Johnson leads the Patriots with 18 wins this season and has a 2.19 ERA. Senior Nicole Reznicek is 6-0 with an ERA of 1.74. Millard South will play Bellevue West, which is seeded seventh with a record of 21-9, in the first round. The Patriots defeated Bellevue West 6-5 the only time the two teams faced off.
The most decorated team in the state returns to the state tournament in the No. 5 seed Papillion-La Vista. The Monarchs have been to all 20 state tournaments, winning 13 titles, including 10 in a row during one stretch. This year, Papillion-La Vista has a record of 26-7. The Monarchs’ pitching staff has been tough to handle for opponents, with both sophomore Julia Andersen and freshman Sam Dellinger boasting ERAs of better than 2.00. Andersen is 16-4 with a 1.61 ERA, and Dellinger is 10-3 with a 1.97 ERA. In four of the seven losses for the Monarchs, the offense was held to fewer than three runs, which doesn’t happen often. Senior Taylor Wachholtz leads the offense with a .505 average and 50 hits. She is also second on the team, to Dellinger, with 33 RBIs. Andersen hit .500 during the season and drove in 29, while Dellinger had 48 hits and 36 RBIs. Needless to say, the Monarch pitchers can help themselves at the plate.
Papillion-La Vista lost four times to top-seeded Millard West. Its other three losses also came at the hands of state qualifiers — Millard South once and Papillion-La Vista South twice. The Monarchs take on No. 4 Grand Island (36-4) in the first round Wednesday.
After winning its first state title last season and breaking a string of three straight championships by Blair, Omaha Skutt Catholic holds the top seed in this year’s state tournament. And the SkyHawks are primed to repeat this year with a high powered offense. Kaylan Jablonski leads Skutt with a batting average of .663, recording 57 hits, 10 home runs, 46 RBIs and scoring 37 runs. Jablonski, a junior, is also the top pitcher for the SkyHawks after compiling a 20-3 record with a 1.72 ERA. Senior Jennifer Daro hit .557 during the season with 39 hits and a team-high 12 home runs. Daro, like Jablonski, handles some of the pitching duties for the SkyHawks. While she has only four decisions, they are all wins. Daro posted a 0.34 ERA during the season. Emilee Jonas has been another large part of the offense, hitting .456 and recording 36 hits. Omaha Skutt has three other hitters in the lineup with an average of better than .400.
Omaha Skutt will take on McCook (19-15), the No. 8 seed on Wednesday. The two teams met early in the season, ending with a 14-10 SkyHawk victory. Skutt has put up double-digit run totals 14 times this year and has shut out eight opponents.
York (27-3) enters its first state tournament boasting the No. 2 seed. Junior Taylor Kadavy has been the Dukes’ top pitcher and one of the top hitters. Kadavy earned all 30 decisions for York, going 27-3 with an ERA of 1.28. She also led the team in home runs with three and compiled a .457 batting average. Junior Katlyn Horras tallied 30 hits and 23 RBIs during the season. Though she had only 65 at bats, Horras still hit .462. Freshman Jordyn Stearns led the Dukes with 36 RBIs and added 24 runs.
York’s first-round matchup will be against Elkhorn (22-7). Despite being the No. 7 seed, the Antlers’ storied program always makes them a tough opponent. Elkhorn won four titles in a row in 2004-2007.
Northwest is also making its first-ever state tournament appearance. The Vikings went 28-1 on the season and are strong on both sides of the ball. Ashley Scherer leads the pitching staff after going 21-1 with a 0.98 ERA. The junior is also one of the top hitters on the team, hitting .438 and scoring 49 runs. Shelby Schacher, a junior, leads the team with a .537 average and six home runs. The Vikings have a talented freshman pitcher in Alyssa Vanosdall, who tallied a 7-0 record with a 1.37 ERA. Even though Northwest is the No. 3 seed, and will play sixth-seeded Seward (18-10), the Vikings could be this year’s surprise team.
Wayne enters the Class C state tournament as the No. 1 seed after going 25-4 this season. The Blue Devils attained a No. 4 ranking in the class, but it’s been the pitching that has Wayne looking at the other teams from the top seed. Senior McKenna Gibson leads the Class C tournament field with a 1.44 ERA among pitchers with at least 10 decisions. Gibson is 20-4 on the season. Junior Kendall Gamble and senior Hannah Gamble are a combined 5-0 on the year. Hannah has an ERA of 2.00, while Kendall boasts a 0.98 ERA.
The Blue Devils have some hitters on the team as well. Junior Jalyn Zeiss leads the team with a .505 batting average and has tallied a team-high 47 hits, 49 runs — also team-leading — and 24 RBIs. She also leads the team with two home runs. Junior catcher Victoria Kranz hit .448 this season and is second on the team with 32 RBIs.
Wayne will take on Milford (15-4) Wednesday at the Smith Softball Complex. There’s one big question about Wayne, and that’s if it is battle tested enough to face the state competition. The Blue Devils faced only two opponents that made it to one of the three state tournaments. One of those is the No. 7 seed Guardian Angels Central Catholic (23-13). Wayne fell to GACC 2-1 near the end of the season. Wayne is entering its 10th state tournament. Last year, the Blue Devils went into the Class B state tournament as the No. 2 seed but were knocked out after three games. Just three years ago, Wayne was runner-up.
In the state tournament, pitching depth is always key. No. 2-seeded Fairbury (22-7) has two pitchers who have shown they can shut down the best of lineups. Senior Jensen Cromer leads the team with 14 wins in 20 decisions and has a record of 1.59. Junior Anna Mach is 8-1 and has an ERA of a mere 0.76. Michaela Barber, a junior, leads the Jeffs with a .495 batting average. The second baseman recorded 49 hits and 36 runs. Barber also is tied for the team-lead with 24 RBIs.
Junior Sydnie Schmidt has totaled 35 hits this season to go with a .393 average and 24 RBIs. She has also scored 27 runs. Mach also recorded 35 hits this season.
Of Fairbury’s seven losses, five of them have come to Class B state qualifiers. The Jeffs have scored 10 or more runs nine times this season, and look to make some noise in this year’s tournament after being knocked out as the No. 1 seed last year. Fairbury was upset in the first round, but battled its way through the loser’s bracket before being eliminated one game away from the championship. On Wednesday, the Jeffs will play the seventh seed in Guardian Angels Central Catholic.
Last year’s champion, Wahoo (28-6), comes into Wednesday’s tournament seeded No. 3 with a record of 28-6. The Warriors are two-time defending champions, looking for Class C’s first three-peat champion. Michaela Miller leads Wahoo with 22 wins while also hitting .381 with 37 hits. The junior also drove in 35 runs this season. Junior Taylor Otte leads the team with 55 hits and a .491 batting average. Otte has scored 46 runs and 36 RBIs. The Warriors will take on the No. 6 seed in Centennial (19-12).