Top five teams in state rankings included
There may not be two more imposing numbers entering this week’s Worth/KHSAA State Softball Tournament than these from the Madisonville-North Hopkins High School camp – a state-record 63 home runs and a .400 team batting average.
Male coach Josh Bloomer is well aware of the gaudy offense and will get a first-hand look at it Thursday when his Lady Bulldogs face the Lady Maroons at 6 p.m. EDT in a first-round game at Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro, Ky.
“They’re a good hitting team,” Bloomer said. “They have a couple of great players who are going on to the (Southeastern Conference) who can really swing it. We have to make sure we have a plan on how to throw them, when to give them pitches and when not to.”
The Male-Madisonville-North Hopkins game is one of several compelling first-round matchups Thursday, especially in a loaded top half of the bracket. All eight teams in the top half are ranked among the state’s top 14 by the Kentucky Softball Coaches Association, led by No. 1 McCracken County, No. 2 Madisonville-North Hopkins, No. 3 Scott County, No. 4 Male and No. 5 Anderson County.
Bloomer said the loaded bracket speaks to the improved depth of softball around the state.
“Some years you might come to the State Tournament and there are four or maybe five teams that had a legitimate shot to win it,” he said. “There are some pretty good teams in the bottom half, and the top is really, really tough. Any team up there could make a run and win it if they get hot. It’s the most competitive balance I’ve seen.”
Madisonville-North Hopkins will be a contender behind its strong offense and five players who have signed or committed with NCAA Division I schools – senior Heather Webb (Toledo), juniors Morgan McElroy (Western Kentucky) and Allison Davis (Morehead State) and sophomores Kaylee Tow (Alabama) and Mallory Peyton (Kentucky).
Tow is hitting .701 and has tied the single-season state record with 19 home runs. Peyton is hitting .500 with 16 home runs and a team-high 62 RBIs.
The only knock on the Lady Maroons is their 0-3 record against McCracken County. The Lady Mustangs (32-3) were the state runners-up last year to Scott County and boast three strong pitchers in juniors Audrey Dodd (14-1, 1.23 ERA), Hannah Ridolfi (11-0, 2.09) and Jenny Chapman (7-2, 2.02).
“There are a lot of teams that can win it, but in my opinion (McCracken County) has to be the favorite because of the amount of talent they have,” Mercy coach Greg Meiners said.
Both Louisville schools should be in contention and have experience on their side, as Mercy is making its fourth straight trip to the State Tournament and Male its third straight.
Meiners said senior pitcher Leigh Ellen Thomas (17-9, 1.72 ERA, Tennessee Tech signee) has been at the top of her game during the postseason.
“There were a lot of teams happy to beat her early in the year, but I knew she had it in her to get back on her game,” Meiners said. “What she needs is two or three runs, and it’s going to be tough to beat us.”
Male relies on a pair of strong pitchers in sophomore Olivia Suski (17-5, 2.12) and senior Hannah Poynter (15-2, 2.55) and a solid offense that sports a .329 team batting average.
Bloomer knows his Lady Bulldogs face a tough road through the top half of the bracket but is confident they can survive.
“Could we go 0-2? Yeah,” he said. “But we could also be there Saturday afternoon playing for a state championship. I don’t think we have to take a back seat to any of those teams.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.
WORTH/KHSAA STATE SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT
* When: Thursday-Saturday.
* Where: Jack C. Fisher Park, Owensboro.
* Tickets: $10 per day; $20 for three-day pass.
* Thursday’s schedule (all times EDT): Madisonville-North Hopkins (35-5) vs. Male (33-7), 6 p.m.; Mercy (23-13) vs. Scott County (30-8), 6; McCracken County (32-3) vs. Daviess County (27-10), 6; Anderson County (30-8) vs. Central Hardin (32-7-1), 6; East Jessamine (31-6) vs. Estill County (20-15), 8; Notre Dame (26-6-1) vs. Ashland Blazer (29-7), 8; North Laurel (25-11-1) vs. Johnson Central (26-10), 8; Montgomery County (24-11) vs. Warren East (29-8), 8
* Friday’s schedule: Winners bracket quarterfinals at 10 a.m. and semifinals at 4 p.m.; losers bracket games at noon, 2, 6 and 8 p.m.
* Saturday’s schedule: Winners bracket final at 10 a.m.; losers bracket final at noon; championship game at 2 p.m. with second game to follow if necessary.