Fillies strike right attitude for 4A state

By JOCELYN SHEETS
Register Sports Editor

Register/Jocelyn Sheets
Iola High’s first-ever state tournament qualifying softball team claimed a Kansas Class 4A Regional Tournament Championship a week ago. The Fillies are practicing this week for Friday night’s opening round game of the state softball tournament in Salina. Members of the 2009 Iola High Fillies’ softball team are (left to right), back row, sophomore Leah Weir, juniors Megan Cook, Alex Hill, seniors Morgan Buchholz, Jenna Sigg, Codi Ellis, Kylie Taylor, juniors Lyndsi Faulhaber, Brandi Preston, Alyssa Rouse; front row, juniors Amanda Carr, Molly Riebel, Kylee McKarnin, Shelby Greenwood.

“We’re here. We might as well win.”
That attitude worked well for Iola High’s Fillies last Tuesday in Garnett. The Fillies had just won a hard-fought semifinal game, 2-1 over Fort Scott.
They turned around to face top-seeded Paola, a team seeking another trip to state.
The Fillies decided to make IHS softball history that night. They defeated Paola 2-1, won a first-ever Kansas Class 4A Regional Softball Championship and a first-ever berth in a state softball tournament.
So it stands to reason the Fillies cop the same attitude as they head into the state softball tournament at Salina.
“We’re here. We might as well win.”
When the Fillies step on Field A at the Bill Burke Complex Friday, they make history in a high school softball program only five years old. Game time is 7 p.m.
Contrasting styles come to the field Friday. The Fillies use speed and the “short game” to put pressure on teams and they play pretty solid defense behind starting pitcher Alex Hill.
Ottawa High’s Cyclones put pressure on teams also. Fillies’ head coach Vince Coons said the Cyclones use their bats, “hitting with power. They have a girl who has 10 home runs this season.”
Iola knows the power of Ottawa’s team. In last year’s 4A regional tournament, Ottawa powered past Iola 11-0 in five innings in a semifinal. Ottawa lost to Paola, 8-7, in the regional championship.
“Our main goal this week is to get ready to play Ottawa. They kicked us out of the regional last year and we want to show we’re better than that game,” said senior second baseman Morgan Buchholz.
“It means a lot to me to be on the first team from Iola High to go to a state softball game because I want our team to be an example for the younger girls in Iola. We went to get more participation in our high school softball program.”
Winning the 4A regional championship was just another step in the progression of the IHS softball program. Team numbers waned a bit this season as the Fillies had three sophomores and three freshmen.
Buchholz, third baseman Jenna Sigg, outfielder Codi Ellis and catcher Kylie Taylor are the seniors on the Fillies’ squad. There are eight juniors.
“Every one of us has a drive to win. We wanted to be successful this season and we’ve worked well together,” Taylor said of the team’s success.
The Fillies are 18-3 going into the state tournament. They were 14-2 in Southeast Kansas League play and were in the hunt for the SEK title until splitting a doubleheader late in the season with Fort Scott.
“Winning the regional and going to state tops off our senior season. We’ve been on the team for four years and this is great,” Taylor said.
Regional champions and a trip to state really hadn’t fully sunk in to Ellis earlier this week. She said it probably would by Thursday just before the team leaves for Salina.
“We’re a team of girls who get a long with each other. We know what we have to do,” Ellis said. “This is a big accomplishment but we still have work to do this weekend at state.”
Sigg is Iola’s power hitter with three home runs, two triples and four doubles. She has 17 RBIs with a slugging percentage of .529. Her batting average is .368.
Sigg also is the Fillies’ biggest threat on the base paths. When she’s on base, teams have to worry about her speed. She leads the team with 14 stolen bases.
“I don’t know if it really has sunk in yet but it’s great to finish our senior season at a state tournament,” Sigg said. “We’re hoping this encourages younger girls to want to play softball during the summer and when they get to high school.”
The four seniors have led by example. Taylor has two home runs, hitting from the left side, and 16 RBIs. Ellis has driven in 14 runs and Buchholz has 12 RBIs. All have been solid defensive players also.
“All of the players on this team have a dedication to the high school program. Most of them have played for the team since they were freshmen,” said Vince Coons, who is the only head coach the IHS softball program has had in its five years.
“Most have progressed through the winter conditioning program I have each year. I believe that little more conditioning has helped this year in that 23 innings of softball we played against Fort Scott and the makeup schedule we went through, plus the back-to-back regional games we played.”
The back-to-back-to-back schedule the Fillies faced at the end of the regular season because of rainouts was tough but good for the team, he said.
“It was tough on Alex, who pitched 30 innings in those games, and on Kylie behind the plate,” he said.
Alex Hill, a junior, is 14-3 pitching for Iola. She’ll be on the mound Friday.
The Fillies have juniors starting on the field for them. At first base is Kylee McKarnin and at shortstop is Lyndsi Faulhaber, who leads the team in doubles with five.
Patrolling center field is Molly Riebel, who is tied for the lead in hits (28) with Sigg, as both hit at a .368 clip. Megan Cook is the starting left fielder and leads the team in batting average (.418).
Other juniors on the state-bound team are Brandi Preston, Amanda Carr, Alyssa Rouse and Shelby Greenwood. Preston and Carr have been used as designated runners for Hill and Taylor throughout the season. Sophomore Leah Weir also is on the state roster and is a back-up pitcher.
Also on the 2009 team were sophomore Lacy Sigg and freshmen Breail Thompson, Lauren Toney and Kelsey Adams.
“There’s been so many distractions at the end of school and now this 10-day period between regional and state. As a team, we’ve talked about just staying focused on Ottawa and working hard in practices,”Coons said.
“Against Ottawa, we have to play well defensively. Alex has to move her pitches around and use the rise ball. Ottawa has quality pitching and our hitters have to swing the bats. The girls are understanding the game better and we’ve played well down the stretch right into regional.
“Putting the ball in play and using our speed and short game are keys to giving ourselves the opportunity to win.”