On Friday, a pair of teams will square off in the first round of the Class 3A state softball tournament that do not have a single player that has played in a state softball tourney.


However, when Frontenac (14-7) takes on Halstead (22-1) at 5 p.m. Friday on Field B at the Twin Oaks Complex in Manhattan, Raider head coach Cassie Buche is not really concerned with that fact.


 

On Friday, a pair of teams will square off in the first round of the Class 3A state softball tournament that do not have a single player that has played in a state softball tourney.


However, when Frontenac (14-7) takes on Halstead (22-1) at 5 p.m. Friday on Field B at the Twin Oaks Complex in Manhattan, Raider head coach Cassie Buche is not really concerned with that fact.


“I think that, with the league that we play in and the atmosphere we have, they will be fine,” Buche said. “It is just another game and that is what I have been telling them.”


The last time Frontenac played in the state tournament was 2004. As for herself, Buche was the catcher on the Raiders 2002 state runner-up squad.


Then, you have Halstead, a team that has never been to the state tournament and makes its first appearance in only its sixth year as a program.


Halstead has been on a tear of late — winning their last 17 in a row since suffering a 9-8 setback to Hesston in the fourth game of the year.


They won their regional championship in 10 innings after going into the seventh inning down 2-1.


“The girls work hard every day and we have been down before but fought back to win,” said Halstead’s second-year head coach Jason Wilson. “They have shown a lot of charactor and heart all season long.”


Halstead is anchored by senior shortstop Stephanie Drake. The Florida State-signee is batting over .600 on the year as the leadoff batter and has 45 stolen bases to her credit.


On top of that, Wilson said that her defense may be where she shines the most.


“She is a gamer,” Wilson said. “She will do things on the field that just blow your mind.


“Defensively, she is so smooth and you wonder how she did it.”


However, Buche said that one player does not a team make.


“It is great to know that there is that kind of talent there,” Buche said. “But, one player cannot win a game for you and if we keep the girls around her off base, that is what we have to do. You can’t focus on just one player ... it takes the entire team.”


And the Raiders counter with junior Emily Barto. The hurler is 12-7 on the season with a 1.23 ERA and has racked up 180 strikeouts.


“She is not one of those girls that focuses just on this because she is too good at other sports,” Buche said. “We have just told her to throw strikes and let the defense work because I have 100 percent confidence in our defense.”


And why not? The Raider defense has a fielding percentage of .980. The outfield has committed just one error all year long while the infield has just nine.


“We pride ourselves on our defense,” Buche said. “We work on the little things that may not happen because that is what you have to do to beat teams.


“If you can make the great plays, you have a great chance at beating teams.”


That defense could be tested by a Halstead team that has outscored their opponents 225-80 over the season.


In addition to Drake, Halstead has third baseman Rachel Phillips and her .545 batting average.


On the mound for Halstead is freshman Aubrie VanSteenburg, who is 14-0 on the season with 127 strikeouts and 24 walks.


“Our freshman has a lot of speed and velosity,” Wilson said. “She has several different pitches and she has been in control in just about every game that she has been in.”


But facing a freshman in a state tournament game could play right into the hands of the Raiders. Especially with three players — Barto, Breanna Rhuems and Dana Musser — all hitting over .400 on the season. Hannah Ketterman and Alyssa Snow are close to that mark, as well.


“We are a very intense team and we always talk about the mental aspect of the game,” Buche said. “If you can stay mentally tough and focused, you can do good things with that and the girls have come so far this year to do that.”


That mental aspect, along with the nerves of playing in their first state tournament game may be the deciding factor on Friday.


“I know, when you look at the bracket, you have a lot of teams that have very good records and I think we have a very good draw with Frontenac,” Wilson said. “You have two teams that have not have the experiece of being there and it will take a team to just go up there and keep their nerves in check.”


Even with it being the first year ever for Halstead to be in the state tournament, Wilson said that the goal is very clear.


“We are going to rely on our seniors to keep us focused and under control,” Wilson said. “I feel that as long as we show up and play the best that we can, win or lose, we can hold our head high.


“If our team steps up and comes together to keep our head on our shoulders, we will be able to do what we want to do and, that is make a run for the finals.”


Matthew Clark can be reached at matthew.clark@morningsun.net or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140. Follow Morning Sun sports at twitter.com/mssports.