‘Dawgs eye return trip to 3A state
McLouth has its share of regional softball runner-up banners in its high school gymnasium.
The team snagged its first regional championship banner last fall with a regional finals win against perennial powerhouse Silver Lake. That translated into McLouth's first state berth, which called for a state participant banner.
This year, the team is eyeing a return to state.
In the process, the Bulldogs wouldn't mind another banner -- Delaware Valley League champions.
The Bulldogs have competed the past few years in softball and have been quite successful, but the team has not been affiliated with a league because not enough DVL schools had softball programs.
This year, however, league officials decided to include softball as a league sport.
Pleasant Ridge, Troy/Wathena, Oskaloosa and Valley Falls will join MHS as the DVL softball teams.
Preparation for the inaugural league season has been good, according to coach Ballard Patterson.
"We've had a really, really good spring so far," Patterson said.
McLouth graduated seniors Catherine Gunther and Heaven Mills. Gunther, a pitcher, now is playing at Butler County Community College. Mills caught interest from Highland Community College coaches, but she decided not to continue her career in college.
Despite losing two top-notch players, the Bulldogs appear poised to make another state run this season.
Rachael Thompson and Erin Heckard return for their senior seasons this spring.
Patterson said Thompson was "overlooked" as an all-state selection last season, but Lezley Lawson at first base and Kendall Patterson at catcher both were all-state selections as freshmen last spring.
Lawson and Patterson also were all-area selections, as was Sam Farris, whom coach Patterson calls "a strong defensive leader."
The key this season is familiarity. With many players back this season and an influx of talented freshmen, things are looking up again for MHS.
"And the girls coming in know what was expected," Patterson said. "And they have worked pretty hard on their own in the winter."
Patterson said the biggest hurdle in the preseason was keeping focused.
"A month is a long time to practice three hours a day," Patterson said.
That will change Friday when the Bulldogs open the season against Atchison at 4:30 p.m. in McLouth.
This year's schedule also includes a rematch with Silver Lake, April 10 at SLHS.
The Bulldogs also hope to make a return trip to state a part of the schedule in late May in Manhattan.
"They play good defense," Patterson said. "We should be in great shape to make another run this year."