Shooting For State: Road to West Lafayette begins today for Jets, Tuesday for Bull Dogs

Two Bartholomew County softball teams that have state finals aspirations likely will have to get through tough sectional final games just to make the regional.

Class 4A No. 6 Columbus North and Class A No. 2 Hauser, both of which made it to semistate last season, certainly aren’t looking past this week’s sectional games. The Jets open the Rising Sun Sectional against Oldenburg Academy at 6 p.m. today, and the Bull Dogs open the Bloomington North Sectional against East Central at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of good teams in our sectional, a lot of good coaches, a lot of good players,” North coach Ron McDonald said. We’re capable of going to the state championship, but we’re capabale of losing in the sectional, too, if we don’t perform. We just have to make sure we play up to our capabilities.”

The Bull Dogs are 18-3. One of their losses is to a Bloomington South team that they could see in the sectional final.

“If I had my three losses back, we should have won those games,” McDonald said. “A coach never likes to lose. We just had three games where we came out and played flat.”

If Columbus North gets past East Central (16-11) on Tuesday, it would face Bloomington North (9-11) at 6 p.m. Thursday. The final is at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Bull Dogs are led both pitching and offensively by junior Maddi Rutan. The Eastern Kentucky recruit is 7-0 with an 0.65 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 86 innings and is batting .508 with seven doubles, 10 home runs, 27 RBIs and 27 runs scored.

Other top hitters for North are junior catcher Kirsten Danford (.475, 13 RBIs), junior second baseman Josie Lemmons (.418, 19 RBIs), junior utility player Kaylee Cowan (.394, eight RBIs) sophomore shortstop Kelsey Lovelace (.375, 18 RBIs), junior first baseman Bailey King (.358, 11 RBIs), senior pitcher/designated player Rachel Cowan (.333, 17 RBIs) and senior right fielder Lillian Mackey (.306, 12 RBIs). Rachel Cowan is 7-0 pitching with an 0.89 ERA.

Eight Bull Dogs have at least one home run this season.

“I feel good about the team and where we’re at,” McDonald said. “I know there’s a lot of pressure on the girls to get back to the semistate, and it’s tough to win the sectional, let alone three times in a row. You need a lot of luck. Once we get out of the sectional, the pressure eases up a little bit. I’m trying to keep the pressure off the girls.”

Columbus East (8-16-1) drew a first-round bye and will play Thursday against the winner of Tuesday’s game between Bloomington South (17-4) and 4A co-No. 9 Shelbyville (19-5).

“The bye for us is good,” East coach Rusty Brummett said. “Looking at the prospective opponent, it’s going to be tough for us. We’re going to have to play very well to win, but we tell our girls we want to be playing our best softball going into sectional, and I think the last couple of ballgames gives all of us the feeling that we can be competitive heading into sectional. But we have to do it again. We have to prove we’re not a one-hit wonder.”

The Olympians beat Indian Creek and Scottsburg last week to close the regular season.

“We’re on a two-game winning streak,” Brummett said. “We beat a very good Scottsburg team Thursday night, pitched well, played some good defense and had some very timely hitting. In my mind and in the players’ mind, that was a good win to prove that we can play with some very good teams. That’s a good win for our program and really is a good launching point to go into our postseason play.”

East is led by junior shortstop and Syracuse recruit Kenzie Foster (.513, two HR, nine RBIs) and junior third baseman and Bowling Green recruit Kaylee Cole (.486, two HR, 25 RBIs). Other top hitters are sophomore second baseman Addy Ross (.449, 26 RBIs), senior center fielder Mackenzie Sigman (.407, nine RBIs) and junior pitcher/first baseman Megan Kennedy (.312, 14 RBIs).

Juniors Kaylee Smith and Kennedy have split the pitching duties the past two seasons.

“Obviously, we’re not the favorite, but we’re somebody that can certainly compete with teams in our sectional,” Brummett said. “We’re not somebody to be taken lightly when we get on the field now.”

Hauser’s Paige McDaniel throws pitch during a softball game against Triton Central Friday, April 22, 2022 at Hauser Jr./Sr. High School in Hope, Ind.

The Republic file photo

Meanwhile, Hauser had a chance to test itself against one of the state’s best when it closed the regular season Thursday with a 2-0 loss to Columbus North.

If the Jets beat Oldenburg (0-12) tonight, they would play South Decatur (5-15) in Tuesday’s second semifinal. The final is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, likely against Class A No. 5 Rising Sun (18-2), which beat Hauser 8-6 early in the season.

“We are blessed at the opportunity and ready to roll,” Brunner said. “We have seven games starting (today), the way our team is looking at it. We’re not overlooking anybody at this point, and that’s one thing I’ve talked to the girls all year about. But there are definitely some high stakes on that game Thursday night.”

Sophomore Paige McDaniel is 13-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 90.2 innings. Junior Kaydence Gates is 4-0 with a 0.17 ERA.

Top hitters for the Jets are junior left fielder Reagan Johnson (.571, 15 RBIs), freshman center fielder Lucie Asher (.570, 16 RBIs), junior shortstop and Eastern Illinois recruit Hannah Taylor (.472, six HR, 33 RBIs), junior third baseman Kyra Meister (.453, 16 RBIs), junior first baseman Kylie Mack (.455), freshman second baseman Izzy Brunner (.442, 27 RBIs), freshman first baseman Maley Jordan (.422, 19 RBIs), sophomore right fielder Kenze Bostic (.415, 21 RBIs),freshman catcher Haylin Campbell (.385, eight RBIs), McDaniel (.375, 11 RBIs) and Gates (.368, nine RBIs).

“I really don’t think I could ask any more out of my girls right now,” Brunner said. “If there’s anything that stands out to me, it’s composure when they get in that box. It’s just getting their mind to override their body’s ability to do what they’re capable of doing. We have very strong hitters. The defense is unreal.”

Sectional winners at both Bloomington North and Rising Sun will host regional games on May 31. Semistate semifinals and finals are June 4 at Bedford North Lawrence (4A) and North Daviess (Class A). State championship games will be June 10 or 11 at Purdue.