Loading the schedule in McLouth
In 11-plus seasons under coach Ballard Patterson, lopsided wins have become a theme for the McLouth High softball program. With a roster full of young talent and the team’s first-ever state championship in mind, the longtime coach decided it was time for a change of pace.
Patterson has loaded the Class 2-1A Bulldogs’ schedule with traditional powerhouses from larger classes, giving his team a steady diet of stiff competition leading up to next month’s regional tournament.
Patterson has 220 career victories at McLouth, including 175 by mercy rule. A mercy rule goes into effect after three innings if the run differential is 15 or greater, or after five innings if the deficit reaches 10 or more. MHS has made quick work of many opponents in the Patterson era, but the longtime coach sees beefing up the schedule as a tool to help the Bulldogs reach – and win – the final game of the season.
“We’re going to battle harden these kids with the idea of trying to get to state this year and trying to win state next year,” said Patterson, who has taken five McLouth teams to state, but never finished higher than third. “We’ll take our lumps a little bit, but we’ll learn how to compete with great teams all the time.”
Sandwiched between lopsided sweeps of Atchison (18-0, 17-0) and Troy (18-1, 17-1), MHS dropped a 3-1, weather-shortened game April 4 at Class 6A Lawrence. They’ve also gone a combined 1-3 against a pair of 4A-1 contenders in Rock Creek and Basehor-Linwood. They split with RCHS, winning 6-5 and losing 16-6, then fell to BLHS, 7-5 and 8-5.
MHS had opportunities in three of the four losses, but couldn’t overcome defensive mishaps. Lawrence scored all three of its runs on passed balls. The Bulldogs got one run back, then left the bases loaded in the fourth inning. The game was called due to lightning after the fifth. They’ll play the second game on a makeup date to be determined.
Patterson’s squad led 5-0 early in both games April 18 at Basehor, but a myriad of errors allowed the Bobcats to mount a pair of comebacks.
“You can’t do that against a Basehor,” Patterson said. “They’re going to make you pay. That’s what we’re starting to learn. We’re scoring plenty of runs against good teams. We’ve just got to quit making mistakes.”
Following the BLHS doubleheader, Patterson had five players batting .500 or better on the season. Junior Jennica Messer leads the way with a .591 average, followed by sophomore Kimi Patterson (.541), sophomore Madison Pope (.535), senior Bailey Scott (.523) and sophomore Sarah Dailey (.500). Scott, a four-year starter, is the team’s only senior in the starting lineup.
Junior Brooke Vicory has led the way in the pitcher’s circle, logging a 1.30 earned run average and four wins, including the Bulldogs’ victory at Rock Creek.
“She’s doing a good job keeping the ball down,” Patterson said. “Beating Rock Creek was a very good win for her.
“We haven’t played very good defense for her in the clutch, or she would have gotten the Basehor and Lawrence wins.”
MHS returned to action Thursday against the reigning 2-1A state champion in Valley Falls.
The Bulldogs fell 5-2 in the opener, but bounced back with an 8-3 win in the second game to bring their season record to 6-5. The road doesn’t get much easier in the near future, as they will next make trips to 2016 3A state runner-up Oskaloosa and 3A Marysville, which won 15 games last season.
MHS could potentially see Valley Falls again in its regional tournament May 16-17 at Alma-Wabaunsee. The field also includes host school Wabaunsee, Troy and Belleville-Republic County, which went to state a year ago.
With at least one game against a returning state team likely awaiting the Bulldogs in regionals, Patterson is hopeful the road they’ve traveled in 2017 will have them ready for the challenge.
“There’s going to be a game at regionals or state where you have to get it done,” he said. “Not everybody is going to roll over and give you a run spread.
“What I’m telling them is we can play with anyone, but we’ve got to eliminate mistakes.”