The Lansing softball team will be one of eight schools representing the 5A classification in this week’s state tournament in Maize.
Lansing clinched their spot in the tourney last week in their regional wins over Sumner Academy and Spring Hill 15-0 and 6-1.
Lansing is the No. 8 seed with a 14-7 record. Shawnee Heights clinched the top seed with a 19-1 record. Bishop Carroll is the No. 2 seed (20-2), Goddard snagged the No. 3 seed (15-3), Blue Valley Southwest is No. 4 with an 18-4 record, Maize South is No. 5 (18-4). Wichita Northwest took the No. 6 seed (17-5) and Emporia is No. 7 with a 15-6 record.
The Lions are making their first appearance in the tournament since 2009.
Head coach Rachel Milnark said the preparation for the tournament has been good.
“We told the girls that we felt like we already prepped them from day one,” Milnark said. “And that more of the postseason stuff has been the mental side of it. (We are) just getting mental toughness, preparing for postseason and keeping our skills where they are at.”
Senior Bradi Basler also said the team has been working on the mental game.
“We’ve been working really hard throughout the season to get our bodies right,” Basler said. “And our whole team prepared. But the last week we have been preparing mentally too for the state tournament.”
Cayleigh Berry said she felt like the team has been preparing for this all year, not just the last few days.
“It has definitely been our goal to get to state,” Berry said. “Now that we are here we really want to get to that next level.”
Chaise Miller echoed what her teammates and coach said. She also said the team has always been told to find a way out of a tough situation.
“We are going to see teams that are a lot better than some of the ones we have seen in league,” Miller said. “We are just going to have to stay mentally tough and find our way back. Anything is possible and we just have to remember that.”
The prep for the state tournament is different than the regular season and regionals. Milnark said the team has been working more on “feel good” practices. She said they’ve been working on getting good hits and defensive outs to help the team see they have the capability to compete Thursday against No. 1 seeded Shawnee Heights.
Berry said the one-and-done mentality also makes a difference so the team will need to work at practice so they can keep pushing if they get down at Maize.
Basler pointed out that the state tournament has a different atmosphere than other games.
“You know that it’s your final shot,” Basler said. “Of course, you want to keep moving up as high as you can. But the atmosphere is completely different. I think we are prepared for it.”
Basler, Berry and Miller have been some of the leaders for the Lions this season. The seniors said they try to communicate with the team during the season to keep morale up and they will have to do that again in the tournament. Miller said they will simply have to live by a pitch-by-pitch mentality.
For Milnark, this is a return to the state tournament for her. The coach was a player on the 2009 team that made it to the tournament. She said she is almost more excited to be here as a coach than she was as a player.
“It’s a totally different feeling to be back on the other side as a coach,” Milnark said. “I feel like I am almost more excited to be back as a coach. Because I’ve helped these girls and watched their growth. As a player, I didn’t see as much of that. It’s different being on the coaching side. It’s a lot more stressful but I feel like my heart is in it more than it even was as a player.”
Milnark said the team is in the top eight and that anything can happen in the postseason.
She said keys for success this weekend will be dominating at the plate in the first inning. Milnark pointed out that the team has had success usually when they score first. She also said the team will have to back up the pitchers on defense and not have down innings.
The Lions’ first game in the tournament will be against No. 1 Shawnee Heights. The Thunderbirds are the defending 5A champion. The Lions already met their conference opponent in the season opener. Lansing fell 8-2 and 17-0 in their doubleheader March 26. Milnark said the team is pumped for the rematch.
“We are pretty pumped to (play) them,” Milnark said. “We know what they are capable of and we know that we could score on them. I feel like we were a whole new team at the beginning of the season and playing against a defending state title team who knew their grounds while we were trying to get ours. I feel like now we are ready to come out and be on top.”
The two teams are set to square off at 11 a.m. Thursday at Mazie High School. The winner will advance to Friday’s semifinal and will face the winner of Blue Valley Southwest and Maize South.