Bishop stood between Cats and state tourney berth
Just six games into 2004, the season looked bleak for the De Soto High School softball team. It appeared the newest campaign of the Wildcat softball program would end like so many others.
Last year Kelly Dennis guided De Soto to six wins. The two seasons before that, the Wildcats didn't win a single game.
But a senior class that included three players who will continue their softball careers at the next level, wouldn't allow a repeat of recent dismal seasons.
They pressed on and turned their final season from rags to near riches by nearly qualifying for a berth in the Kansas 4A state softball tournament.
Only a 4-0 loss to old nemesis Bishop Ward wedged itself between De Soto and the state tournament.
"We won some games, became motivated, and started playing better ball," De Soto pitcher Emily Baker said. "Once we saw we could win, people started working hard."
Baker, who started playing tournament ball before joining the Wildcat program her freshman year in the spring of 2001, said that the Wildcats were confident going into the regional tournament after winning seven of 10 games.
But she said the team's confidence really soared once De Soto knocked off second-seeded Piper 1-0 in the opening round of the regional. Baker pitched a gem and shut down the Pirate offense, getting the win.
"Our confidence was pretty high already," she said. "But after we beat Piper we felt like we could play with anyone."
Baker carried De Soto to the finals of the tournament when she won another pitcher's duel over Sumner Academy by a 2-1 count.
Bishop Ward then ended the Wildcat season when it scored four runs in the first three innings on Baker and then held on for the four-run win.
Before the Wildcats began to warm-up, they started the season, which ended with a 9-10 record, with six straight losses.
Part of the reason for the Wildcats' poor start included a vastly improved Anderson County squad, Piper, always-top notch Mill Valley team, and Santa Fe Trail.
But De Soto's fortunes turned around following double-header sweeps of Perry-Lecompton and Bonner Springs, which improved the Wildcats' record to 4-6.
One of the highlights for Baker and the rest of the Wildcats was the narrow 7-5 loss at the hands of Mill Valley, a team the Wildcats haven't beaten on a softball field.
Through the first six games of the season, De Soto struggled on the mound and from the plate -- a combination that usually doesn't bode well as far as wins and losses go.
De Soto pitchers Baker and Allie Heinen started the season with a combined 9.150 earned run average and struggled as opposing batters hit a sweltering .335 against them.
But the senior duo found the answers. During the final 13 games of the year, enemy batters managed just 67 hits and scored a meager 16 earned runs against Wildcat pitching.
The success helped Baker and Heinen combine for an all-star-like 1.653 earned run average during the Wildcats' 9-4 stretch run. Opposing batters hit a cold .199 against the hurlers during the same stretch.
Wildcat hitters didn't fare any better than Baker and Heinen in the early part of the season.
During the six-game losing skid, De Soto hitters belted a mere .228 against opposing pitchers. The Wildcats managed just 12 runs early on compared to 55 for the enemy.
De Soto turned its fortune around from the plate as well. The Wildcats boosted their team batting average to .262 for the year after drilling 100 hits in their final 360 at bats.
They also averaged more than four runs per game during the later stretch compared to just two runs a game early on.
Jara Mori earned first-team all conference honors after leading the team in several categories.
The senior put together a monster season by hitting a smooth .429 and bashed her way to a .469 slugging percentage. Mori also landed on base more than 49 percent of the time as the team's lead-off hitter.
Her 11 runs scored also led the team. She and Heinen were tops on the team with six walks each.
Heinen led the Wildcats in several categories. She ripped four doubles off of opposing pitchers and had a triple and a home run. Heinen's 13 runs batted in were also a team high.
Jen Davis led the Wildcats with 64 at bats, 23 hits, a triple, and 27 total bases. Lauren Hampton tied Heinen and Davis with a triple. Nicole Husted had a home run for the Wildcats.
Jenny Hill landed in the top spot along with Mori and Heinen by earning six base-on-balls during the season.