Though the names on the roster remain largely unchanged, this year's East Marshall squad has a noticeably different look from a year ago.
Losing just four seniors from a 2012 state tournament run, East Marshall softball coach Jary Hoskey brings back an altered though matured lineup for a return trip to Fort Dodge.
"We have seven different starting positions on this team from what we had last year so kudos to our girls and their hard work," Hoskey said of his Mustang squad that heads back to Fort Dodge for the second year in a row and the fourth time in school history.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
The East Marshall softball team poses with the program’s second consecutive state qualifier banner after defeating PCM 7-2 in their Class 3A Region 7 title game July 15 in State Center. The fourth-ranked Mustangs start their state tournament experience on Tuesday with an 11 a.m. quarterfinal game against No. 11 Clarke of Osceola at Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
"We set our goals in January with our pitchers and catchers. ... Getting back to the state tournament is the fine wine we all wanted to taste. We're going to have some fun but it's going to take a good team to beat us well."
The fourth-ranked Mustangs enter the Class 2A state tournament at Harlan Rogers Sports Complex as one those good teams that belongs in the conversation as a state title threat.
East Marshall begins its pursuit Tuesday at 11 a.m. against 11th-ranked Clarke (26-9) with the winner advancing to Thursday's semifinal round to battle the victor of No. 14 New Hampton (27-9) vs. No. 3 Mid-Prairie (30-10).
Other Class 3A showdowns include Estherville-Lincoln Central (20-10) vs No. 1 Sergeant Bluff-Luton (33-3) and No. 9 Monticello (31-6) vs No. 5 Bondurant-Farrar (27-12).
Along with a more versatile defense, the Mustangs boast two more seasoned arms from the circle in junior Haley Long and sophomore Mariah Fritz - both part of last year's state contingent.
Long, who rested through regional play due to lingering effects from an illness, brings in a 14-2 mark and a 2.50 earned run average with 118 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings. Fritz is 14-3 with a 1.78 ERA and has fanned 135 batters in 117 2/3 frames.
Matching the Mustangs' flexible defense is a multi-faceted attack at the plate that will test the Indians' top two hurlers - junior Libby Bermis (17-6) and senior Carrie Kindred (9-3). Bermis has a 1.19 ERA and 198 strikeouts through 141 2/3 innings, while Kindred has retired 60 batters on strikes to go with her 2.30 ERA in 82 1/3 frames.
"When you win 28 games there's not too many teams that can defend that with good pitching," Hoskey said of his adaptable offense. "We're diversified - we can lay down the bunt or we can slap, we can hit the long ball and get base hits."
Senior Katie Roseland, the NICL West Division's Most Outstanding Player, leads Class 3A with 14 home runs and the Mustangs have five batters hitting above .400 and three more past .300.
Clarke counters with one of the most productive batters in designated hitter Sarah Pate, who boasts a .530 batting average, along with five homers, nine doubles and 34 RBIs.
Getting past Pate's Indians would move the Mustangs into Thursday's state semifinal at 3:30 p.m., while a loss would send them to consolation play Wednesday at 10 a.m. The championship contest is Friday at 2:30 p.m.
East Marshall rebounded from a first round loss with two consolation victories to place fifth last year. Though this time, Hoskey points to his team's raised confidence level as a major reason they can open this year's tourney on a better note.
"The girls have confidence in each other, in our pitching staff and at the plate," said Hoskey, whose squad may be short on seniors (3), but not in cohesion.
"We're young, but we're coming together. ... The girls are resilient and they come to play."
Six of Clarke's nine losses came against currently ranked foes including Class 5A's No. 5 Johnston, No. 9 Southeast Polk and No. 10 Cedar Rapids Jefferson. The Indians split with Class 4A's No. 4 Carlisle, while also losing to No. 7 Winterset and Class 2A No. 14 Eddyville-Blakesburg. ... Three teams return from last year's Class 3A state tourney field including the Mustangs, Estherville-Lincoln Central and No. 5 Bondurant-Farrar.