After two close calls, the Truman softball team is one win away from heading back to the Class 4 final four in Springfield for a third time in four seasons, with a chance to achieve back-to-back state championships.
The Patriots (28-3) needed some extra innings to down Liberty in the district finals (1-0 in eight) and Staley in Wednesday’s sectional round (2-0 in nine), setting up today’s 1 p.m. state quarterfinal matchup with Lee’s Summit at Legacy Park.
If another white-knuckler is needed against the Tigers (21-6), who defeated Raymore-Peculiar 6-5 in 11 innings in their sectional, Truman coach Amy Temples said her team certainly is capable of handling the situation.
“You feel more confident with a couple runs, but our girls are used to tight games,” Temples said. “This team typically has a slow start. Confidence-wise, I don’t think they ever think it’s over until the last out is recorded and the game’s actually over.”
A giant reason for such confidence is having a pitcher like Paige Parker in the circle. The Oklahoma-committed senior sports a 23-1 record with a minuscule ERA of 0.26 and 333 strikeouts in 159 innings. Against Staley she hurled her eighth no-hitter of the season with 18 strikeouts in nine innings.
Even with the dearth of balls put in play by opponents, first baseman Kayla Harrell said the Patriots defense must remain on its toes, knowing that any slip-up can prove costly in the tournament crucible.
“It gets a little tough, but we know we’ve always got to be ready for anything,” Harrell said. “We’ve got to come to play every game. We can’t take a team lightly.”
Teams have taken to bunting against Parker whenever a runner reaches with less than two outs, and sometimes just to try putting a runner on base. Whatever Lee’s Summit tries, Temples is confident her team can handle it.
“We will see (the short game) from them, but the good thing is we’re playing the short game so well,” she said. “We have a lot of confidence in (Parker) taking care of the next batter.”
Parker also boasts a .600 batting average with nine home runs and 33 RBIs, but Liberty and Kearney both intentionally walked her every trip to the plate – nine times in all. Temples said the Patriots have learned to expect that move, but she isn’t assuming Lee’s Summit will follow suit.
“We’ve talked about the importance of somebody getting in front of her and getting a hit after her,” Temples said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Tracy (Bertoncin, Lee’s Summit’s coach) comes right at us. I expect to see Emily Robinson come right after us.”
“It’s just one of those things – everybody has to do their job, hit the ball, get on base,” said third baseman Tori Zorich, who bats cleanup behind Parker. “The pressure shouldn’t be there; it’s just another at-bat.
“We have a lot of confidence in that our teammates will help. We can look to each other.”
Temples added that while Lexi Crabtree pitched for the Tigers when the Patriots beat them 1-0 to win the season-opening Greater KC Tournament, she expects to see Emily Robinson in the circle today, as Robinson has pitched throughout the postseason.
Zorich ranks right behind Parker with a .446 average and 24 RBIs, leadoff hitter Brooke VunCannon (.418, team-high 29 runs) and Sara Jeffress (.345) also are batting above .300 for the Patriots, and Maya Coen (.297) isn’t far behind.