MOKANE, Mo. - South Callaway head softball coach David Odneal offers a couple of dream scenarios he's confident any of his players would eagerly embrace with a prime payoff at stake.
South Callaway will be shooting for its first state softball title in school history when it makes its initial appearance in the Class 2 semifinals this morning in Springfield. The Lady Bulldogs (23-4) square off against the Kelly Lady Hawks (19-7) at 10 a.m. at the Killian Softball Complex.
"We've been in these situations before on the field - the difference is, there's maybe some more people in the stands, it's a little bit louder, and other things are going on," Odneal said. "... That's something that you want to be - you want to be the one that comes up (to the plate) with the bases loaded and a 3-2 count, so that you're ready to go after it.
"You want to be the pitcher that's there in the seventh inning, ready to shut down the other team. I've got a lot of girls that want to be in that situation."
The Lady Bulldogs advanced to the Final Four with a 15-8 quarterfinal victory over Highland last Saturday in Ewing. Their expectations for making it to state emerged from a painful near-miss last year. South Callaway came within a game of reaching its destination during a surprising postseason run, falling just short in a 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Palmyra.
"It was really disappointing and upsetting because we knew we had the talent, we knew we had the team that we could get there - and it just didn't work out that way," senior left fielder Brooke Craw said. "This year we really wanted to make it to the Final Four, and now our goal is to win state. I really hope we can accomplish that, and I know we have the talent."
Senior pitcher Abby Bartley is expected to get the start for South Callaway. She is 21-4 on the season with a 1.07 ERA and 93 strikeouts.
"She has the ability to do lots of different things," Odneal said. "She's not going to overpower you, she's a very good fielder. She has a presence, an idea (of what she wants to accomplish), and she works very well with her sister behind the plate, (junior catcher Anna Bartley).
"She doesn't like to lose, doesn't like to come out, doesn't like to not have success, so she is a good competitor."
The Lady Bulldogs - who have won five straight and seven of their last eight - enter today's semifinal batting .365 as a team and averaging 8.2 runs per game.
Senior third baseman Karli Leeper leads South Callaway with a .500 average and 38 hits, and is one of three players with 21 runs batted in. Leeper also tops the Lady Bulldogs with six stolen bases.
Abby Bartley is hitting .450 with 36 hits and 21 RBI, while junior first baseman Kaitlyn Loucks has a .328 average with 21 RBI and the team's only home run. Anna Bartley is batting .400 with 30 hits and 22 RBI.
Senior shortstop Bailey Ward (.461), junior second baseman Paige Brown (.324), junior center fielder Hannah Oberdiek (.230), Craw (.300) and freshman right fielder Nicole Horstman (.271) round out the lineup.
"We're hoping to be able to put the ball in play - hit the ball solid, hit line drives - and hopefully go from there," Odneal said.
The Lady Hawks - third in Class 2 last year - secured a return to the semifinals by whipping Willow Springs 20-0 in their quarterfinal last Saturday.
The Lady Hawks will likely throw sophomore Alexis Dock, who owns a 10-3 record with a 1.57 ERA and 94 strikeouts. She also is hitting .514 with 23 RBI and three home runs.
The Lady Hawks are hitting .355 as a team and averaging 7.7 runs.
The South Callaway-Kelly winner will play the winner of the other semifinal between Marionville (23-3) and Bishop LeBlond (24-3) for the state title at 10 a.m. Saturday. The losing teams will play for third place at 1 p.m. today.
Check the Class 2 state softball championship bracket and results at mshsaa.org.