The Manhattan High softball team went 4-2 last week, winning its final four regular-season games, but dropping two to undefeated Washburn Rural last Wednesday.
While both scores weren’t particularly close, the Indians managed to stay close and avoid being run-ruled in each of the two games on senior day. Manhattan would love a rematch, but first the team will have to deal with fourth-seeded Topeka High at Wednesday’s Class 6A softball regional in Topeka.
MHS coach Scott Mall said the key to getting past the Trojans and earning a game with Rural is minimizing defensive miscues.
“Our defense was really struggling when we played them earlier,” he said. “We were making four or five errors a game, and we’re doing much better with that now. It’s just a matter of us hitting the ball against them.”
The Indians split the season series with Topeka High, and have been playing better softball the last couple weeks. But Mall knows the Trojans have been improving as well.
“Late in the season, they’re a good hitting team,” Mall said. “They get up here and look for a chance to hit the ball. They’re not going to be picky, they’re going to get up there and look for a pitch to hit. I think the top four hitters in their lineup are really getting after the ball. They take good swings and drive the ball up the middle.”
Helping spur the Indians along is a talented senior class that is faced with the fact that the team’s next game could be its last.
Seniors Allie Massanet, Kylie Smith, Kori Bridegam, Tyler Hoyt and Jenna Stigge have been staples on Manhattan softball team for much of their careers. Bridegam, Smith and Massanet all saw significant time as sophomores, with Hoyt added to the mix as a junior. Stigge filled in at second base as a freshman before earning a full-time spot.
“They came in and a lot of them had to play as freshmen and sophomores,” Mall said. “They came in and stepped in and learned from the older girls. Since then, they’ve just improved on things every year. They work hard during the season, they’ve been great leaders for the younger girls — they work really hard in the offseason.
Mall said despite being rewarded with playing time early in their careers, the seniors never became complacent with their varsity status.
“If you look at any of them, they do a lot of things much better than they did because they weren’t satisfied as sophomores on varsity,” he said. “They wanted to do whatever they can to win ballgames. They’ve adjusted — they hit different, they play different defense, they’ve gotten better and better. They get out there every night and give everything they have for their team to be successful.”
Mall said having a mix of seniors playing alongside freshmen like Madi Fief and Caitlyn Claussen gives the younger players the chance to become acclimated to the varsity level while not having to deal with as much expectation.
“It gives the younger players the chance to play without pressure,” he said. “They’re all there taking on the clutch situations, stepping up and making big plays so the younger girls just get in and play. They talk to them all the time. We’ve got two freshmen and some sophomores playing, they welcomed them in right away and tell them what they need to do.
“They do whatever they need to do for their teammates and for their team.”
Manhattan is scheduled to play at 2 p.m. in the Washburn Rural regional in Topeka. Should the Indians advance, they’d likely see Rural in the final, which is scheduled to begin immediately following the second game of the day — Rural (20-0) vs. KC Schlage/Washington (1-11).
The championship game, with a state berth on the line, is set to start at 5:30 p.m.