Time is of the essence.
Time is of the essence.
At least to Riverton softball coach Brian Mitchell and Pratt coach Mike Forshee it is.
Both will have to wait a week before squaring off in the first round of the Class 4A State Softball Tournament at the Bill Burke Complex in Salina. The teams will meet at 7 p.m. Friday on Field B.
“I wish we were playing right now,” Mitchell said. “We had a little momentum after we played in the regionals.
“It is going to be a challenge with the lay off. We have to try to keep them thinking positive.”
For the Greenbacks (15-7), Forshee said that the layoff between the regional championship and the state tournament is a big concern.
“We are used to playing, at least in May, a couple times a week,” Forshee said. “My biggest concern is the wait and getting some consistency.”
As for Riverton (20-3), they come off a big, emotional win over previously unbeaten Girard in the regional finals last Wednesday. That came after the Trojans swept Riverton for the Crawford-Neosho-Cherokee League title the week before.
That 2-0 regional championship win did more for the Rams than their previous 21 games, Mitchell said.
“The doubt that we did have after our two games with Girard have been erased,” Mitchell said. “I think they really believe.”
Toss in the fact that this will mark Riverton’s second straight trip — and eighth since 1999 — to the state tournament, albeit their first in Class 4A. The Rams finished fourth at last year’s Class 3A tournament.
On the other hand, the Greenbacks have not sniffed a state tournament game since 2002.
“We talked about nerves at practice and we have some girls that have been to state during the summer at some good levels,” Forshee said. “Right now, we are just going to stay relaxed and play and do what got us here.”
Pratt is led by junior shortstop Ashton Neumann, who was an All-League selection last year. At the regional tournament she went 7-for-11 with three 2-run singles in the championship game.
“She is just tough,” Forshee said. “She had some injuries last season and just played right though them.”
He said that, during basketball season, Neumann suffered a knee injury that may be operated on during the summer. That did not seem to affect her softball game as she has committed just five errors all season long.
The Greenbacks’ leading pitcher is junior Brooke Blankenship. At 14-3 and a returning All-League selection from a year ago, Forshee said that the Pratt defense starts on the mound.
“She is not a big strikeout pitcher but, she can hit her spots,” Forshee said. “I think she has just walked five all year and she creates a lot of ground balls ... she just locates the ball very well.”
But, Riverton counters with junior pitcher Haleigh Sills, who is 13-1 on the season with a .17 ERA. Sills has just two earned runs all season.
Mitchell said that the pressure of the post-season is something that he is not worried about when it comes to Sills.
“Haleigh has things in perspective and there is some pressure on her,” Mitchell said. “She knows that she has to have the defense behind her and she will be the first one to say that if it wasn’t for her defense, she would not be where she is at.”
Offensively, the Rams come into the state tournament hitting .341 as a team and they have outscored their opponents 203-36. Three in the Riverton lineup are hitting over .400.
“We’ve really worked hard over the last three or four years on our power,” Mitchell said. “Our goal is to hit the ball hard but, we are not geared on getting a hit, we are geared on having a good at-bat and having a plan.”
With all the comparisons and numbers, Mitchell said that it will take the basics to earn a spot in the semifinals.
“We have to pitch well and keep the ball down, play great defense and get timely hitting,” Mitchell said. “We also have to have a confident attitude like we did against Girard in the regional final.”
Matthew Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140. Follow Morning Sun sports at twitter.com/mssports.