For two-thirds of the Hays High softball team’s starters, the days leading up to the postseason are filled with few thoughts of the game. Instead, the Indian seniors were filled with the joy of receiving their diplomas and going through graduation rituals.
Luckily for Erin Wagner’s squad, the top-seeded Indians have the odds in their favor to advance through the Class 4A Division I Regional tournament hosted Tuesday at Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex.
“I think our odds are pretty high at this point,” Wagner said. “I think it’s basically just up to us to play our game and go out and do our best.”
The Indians (8-10) top a four-team bracket followed by No. 2 Ulysses (7-11), No. 3 McPherson (7-13) and No. 4 Buhler (0-20), the first-round opponent for Hays High, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. McPherson and Ulysses get Tuesday’s action starts at 3 p.m.
For Wagner, who has not had the regular oversight of her team due to seniors graduating, is hopeful of a crisp Game 1 to help the Indians get their feet under them to start the postseason.
“Our first opponent hasn’t won a game all season, but I’ve really stressed to the girls not to take that lightly and to still go out and play to the best of their abilities. We’re just seeing that as the game to refocus our minds,” Wagner said. “This weekend (was) graduation weekend for most of the girls and they haven’t been in class for a while now, so just getting them back in the mindset and focused on softball again. That first game will be a really great opportunity for that and will prepare us for whoever we face in the second game.”
The Indians finished the season by going .500 during the final eight games, including falling victim to a pair of sweeps by Garden City and Silver Lake. After a 4-2 start to the season, Hays High dropped four straight against Salina South and Great Bend before seemingly turning the corner, winning a pair of games at the Thomas More Prep-Marian triangular.
“I was kinda upset that we weren’t able to win the last games of our regular season and I’m kinda upset that I wasn’t able to contribute to my team more,” said Kaitlyn Brown, a freshman pitcher and outfielder for Hays High. “I’m excited for regionals and hoping I’ll be ready to go. I know our team will try their best and I’m excited.”
Brown was forced to leave action Friday against Garden City after a run-down resulted in a collision with a baserunner. Despite being sidelined with a quad contusion, the Indians’ No. 1 pitcher is optimistic she will be ready to go against Buhler. Wagner said, “she assured me she would be ready to go, but she was still limping pretty good (Friday). I know she’s been doing a lot to do everything she can do to get back and be able to play on Tuesday.”
Along with a 4-4 record, the freshman found confidence in her bat midway through the season to add to Hays High’s powerful lineup. Five seniors — Tessa Stickel, Madison Prough, Kylie Brown, Nicole Dinkel and Albany Schaffer — each have batting averages north of .400 and combined for 10 home runs, five coming from Schaffer.
Stickel leads the group with 32 hits while Kylie Brown supplies the ability to drive in baserunners with a team-high 20 RBI. Dinkel scored a team-high 21 runs during the regular season.
However, it wasn’t the bats that impressed Wagner down the stretch.
“I think just from our pitching staff, I’m seeing a lot more confidence in them and their ability to work ahead in counts and throw good pitches,” Wagner said. “Defensively, we have some run-downs at Garden City that we executed really well. Just really getting back to fundamentals after that Garden City game and the girls getting some confidence in their bats again.”
If Kaitlyn Brown is unable to pitch in the first game Tuesday, the responsibility will fall on fellow freshman Jaysa Wichers (4-5). Brown said the duo has leaned on each other to sift through the tough waters of facing high-school level bats right out of the gate.
“Sometimes it’s nerve-racking because Jaysa and I are only freshmen. Knowing that they rely on us two to pitch, it’s nerve-racking sometimes,” Brown said. “It makes it a lot easier knowing the other starting pitcher is a freshman because we can really relate to each other and understand how hard it gets.”
Brown and Wagner said the leadership of Hays High’s large senior class — 10 in all — led to normality in practices leading up to regionals. For Brown, sending the group off that welcomed her in with open arms and has her back on the mound with the program’s first trip to state since 2012 would make for a successful season.
“We have a pretty good team this year. I think going to state would be a really good opportunity for all of us,” Brown said. “I feel like we can do pretty well with all of our teamwork and all our coaches have been coaching us. Just how much a lot of us want to go to state, I feel like that would be an end to the seniors’ last softball season.
“It’s pretty normal until you actually sit down and think about it because it’s hard knowing my sister (Kylie) won’t be on the field with me anymore,” Brown said. “I’m pretty close with a lot of the other seniors, so it’s hard knowing that I won’t have that encouragement as much while I’m playing as much as they’ve gave me.”
Sprinkled into the schedule are numerous results that sit uneasy with the Indians — Great Bend and Silver Lake, to name a few. Regardless of past results, failure to run through a favorable regional would be unsatisfactory.
“I think there was some games that we probably would’ve expected ourselves to win that we didn’t,” Wagner said. “At the same time, I’m still seeing a lot of positive things from my team going into regionals.
“We have high expectations to come out on top at regionals and go to state.”
Class 4A-I Regional schedule
at Hays (Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex)
2. Ulysses (7-11) vs. 3. McPherson (7-13), 3 p.m
1. Hays High (8-10) vs. 4. Buhler (0-20), 4:30 p.m.
Hays High/Buhler winner vs. Ulysses/McPherson winner, 6 p.m.