In a way, it’s a perfect fit.
Labette County head softball coach Lori Green has a team unlike any she’s coached for a bracket unlike any she’s seen.
The Grizzlies, at 23-0, are the top seed for the Kansas Class 4A state tournament that gets under way in Salina.
But they’re just one of three 23-0 teams. Then there are a pair of 22-1 squads. Oh, and two 21-2 teams. The worst record in the field is an impressive 18-5. The eight-team field has a combined record of 173-11.
“I’ve never seen a bracket like this before,” said Green, in her 22nd season at Labette County. “I mean, the No. 7 seed has two losses. It’s brutal. But these girls are prepared. They’re focused.”
Labette County opens its state bid with a 5 p.m. game tonight against Mulvane, 18-5.
The Grizzlies have put up some impressive numbers in rolling through their undefeated season, a first for Green, who has been the only head coach for the program, which began in 1990.
Labette County has outscored its opponents 246-13, combining powerful hitting and the pitching prowess of senior Allie Reynolds.
Reynolds, who has pitched every inning of every game in her four-year career, has simply been dominant. She has an earned-run average of just 0.30 and opponents are batting just .078 against her. She has struck out 254 batters after entering the season already holding the school career record with 572. In her 23 starts, she has thrown 15 shutouts.
“She has been unbelievable,” Green said of Reynolds, who has signed to pitch at Park University. “She has been on fire this year. She’s the type of kid who pitches year round and she just keeps getting better.”
But Reynolds is just one piece of the puzzle for the Grizzlies.
Catcher Kaysha Julich and shortstop Shelbie Foister are both four-year starters and four-time All-SEK perfomers. Kelsie Goins, at first base, and Katie Rash, a right fielder who tore her ACL as a sophomore, are each three-year starters. Tiara Ford, who Green said has grown into a great center fielder and is hitting .367, rounds out the six senior starters.
“These seniors are just an amazing group to coach,” Green said. “They have a cumulative GPA of 3.57. They’re leaders on and off the field. They’re well-respected. Just great, great kids.”
Foiser, Julich and Reynolds are each hitting above .500 while four more Grizzles are above the .320 mark, including Goins at .447.
“Their approach at the plate is they clear their mind of everything before they go up there,” Green said. “They’re selective but aggressive. They’ve taken the philosophy to be the best they can be every time they step up to the plate.”
Throw in some sparkling defense — Green said she would guess the Grizzlies are still in the single digits when it comes to errors — and Labette County has a complete team that looks poised to do something no team in school history has done: win a game at the state tournament.
“This team is right at the top in all that I’ve coached. They’re strong at every spot, in the field and in the lineup. We don’t have a weak link,” Green said. “We want this to be more than a fun trip out there. We know it’s going to be tough, but we’re ready.”
In a way, it’s a perfect fit.
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