By TYLER HENRY
Little Apple Post contributor
After handling their business in the 4A regionals last week, the Wamego softball team will get back to hunting, in search of their second state title in three years.
The Lady Raiders won it all back in 2021 but fell to Miege in the state semis a season ago, and were forced to settle for third place.
In front of an electric home crowd, Wamego exacted their revenge on the Lady Stags in a regional championship last week, holding on for a 4-2 victory to punch their ticket to state.
“We were very business-like going into regionals last week,” Raider head coach Luke Meyer said. “The girls were really focused on Tuesday and they were dialed in throughout both games. We knew Miege was going to be tough but we were able to push through and with Peyton on the rubber we always feel like we have a shot.”
When they needed her most, Peyton Hardenburger delivered yet another gem, epitomizing the 1-2 punch of herself and Holy Cross commit Maya Gallagher, who have had opposing lineups reeling all season long.
That dynamic duo has combined to toss 85 innings for a team ERA of 0.66, striking out 158 batters while issuing just seven walks all season long.
“Our pitching has been far and away our biggest strength,” Meyer said. “We have two of the best pitchers in the state in any class and a great defense backing them up.”
Thanks to those elite arms in the circle, this year’s Lady Raiders come into the 4A bracket as the 1-seed, boasting an overall record of 17-1, including 10 shutouts, and a run differential of +117.
All of this has been done despite incurring heavy losses over an offseason that saw Wamego graduate nearly 80 of their runs from the season prior.
“We had a lot of big pieces coming back from last year but we also lost a lot of talent in that 22’ class,” he said. “I’ve been very impressed with the growth that I’ve seen this year. We’ve had girls step up to fill those roles and that’s been great to see.”
The Lady Raider’s title chase will begin on Thursday when they take on a familiar foe in the Rock Creek Lady Mustangs, a team Wamego beat twice this year in league play by final scores of 16-0 and 15-7.
“We need to make routine plays look routine to have success this week,” Meyer said. “The teams who make the least mistakes are the ones who win this time of year. Our pitching needs to be on but they’ve been able to hit their spots all season and we’ll be prepared for the moment.”
First pitch between the Lady Raiders and Mustangs is scheduled for 5:00 on Field A at Salina South High School with the semifinals and state title game to be played on Friday.
For continuing coverage of Wamego softball all postseason long stay tuned to the Little Apple Post.