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With five of the top six teams in the state and 11 of the top 30, it’s no secret that the State Softball Tournament, starting Friday at Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro, is a tough field.
But balanced it doesn't seem to be.
The top half of the bracket is spilling over with ranked teams -- No. 1 Christian County, No. 5 Mercy, No. 6 Allen County Scottsville, No. 20 Franklin County, No. 22 Garrard County, No. 29 Ashland Blazer and No 30 Shelby County.
“I think it’s a good, strong tournament, but our half of the bracket is just loaded,” SCHS Coach Kelly Cable said. “Everybody is either ranked or at least receiving votes.
“It’s not balanced at all, but you have to play the top teams sometime.”
The Lady Rockets open up against No. 1 Christian County, and, win or lose, they’ll face either Mercy or Ashland Blazer.
Just four top 30 teams reside in the bottom half of the bracket – No. 2 Owensboro Catholic, No. 4 North Laurel, No. 10 North Hardin and No. 27 Montgomery County.
This double-elimination tournament seems to be stacked in favor of host Owensboro Catholic. After finishing in the final four last year, Owensboro Catholic appears to have an easy road back there, facing unranked Conner in the first round and then either Johnson Central or Pleasure Ridge Park, both unranked, in their second game.
Because of the draw, Cable said Owensboro Catholic looks to be the favorite, in the bottom of the bracket, but said she can’t pick a favorite in the top half of the bracket or an overall favorite.
“There are too many good teams out there this year,” she said. “Any little mistake – a walk, an error, a strikeout, anything – can change the whole game with this caliber of teams.”
The Lady Rockets are no stranger to top-ranked foes, having played more than a third of their games and finishing 5-8 against teams in the top 25. They are also 3-3 against teams in the tournament.
“We beat Franklin County and Garrard County and played close with Mercy for six innings, so we feel pretty good,” Cable said.
The girls are also feeling good about the tournament, despite the difficult teams ahead.
“I think we have a good chance,” senior left fielder Katie Case said.
“We have a shot to open some eyes,” senior pitcher Haleigh LeCompte added.
The difference, Cable and the girls’ agreed on, came in the district championship against Anderson County.
“We started believing in ourselves,” senior catcher Shauna Gramig said. “We feel much, much better now.”
“I think their focus is tighter,” Cable said. “They look like they have that determination and drive they need to win against teams of this caliber.”
Cable said the team’s pumped-up schedule is paying off right now.
“We knew how talented this team could be, so we tried to beef up the schedule some,” she said. “They knew they had the opportunity to make it to state this year, so we wanted them to know the level of play it takes to win down there. It [strength of schedule] paid off for district and region, but I guess we’ll find out if it works for state.”
Senior DH Farren Holland is impressed with her team’s play right now.
“I think we’re just a really solid, solid team right now,” she said. “We’re playing together and with more confidence.”
That's confidence they’ll need against a stacked field.
“I think we’re playing our best ball right now,” Cable said. “Is it the best we’re capable of? I don’t think so. I think we’re even better and capable of taking it up another notch on both offense and defense. And we’re going to have to do that to stay in this tournament.”