High School: UIL state softball tournament

As the softball regular season played out, it became a foregone conclusion that someone from District 8-5A would earn an appearance in the state tournament this weekend.

Plano might have been the favorite coming off a state tournament berth last season, but Plano East separated itself as the top dog in 8-5A after beating Plano twice in district play and then knocking another district rival, Hebron, out of the playoffs in the regional finals last weekend.

Now, Plano East will represent what many coaches in North Texas believe is the toughest district in the state in Austin.

East will face Klein Collins in the 5A state semifinals at 3 p.m. Friday at the University of Texas’ McCombs softball field in its second trip to state in three years.

East’s success begins in the circle with ace Holly Kern, who notched 26 wins this season with just under 200 strikeouts and a 2.18 ERA.

East is equally as strong on offense, boasting nine batters with averages over .300, two of which are batting well over .400.

Kern again ranks at the top of her team on offense, hitting just under .400 and leads the team in both doubles and home runs.

Despite how strong Plano East looks on paper, Klein Collins looks even better. All but two Collins batters hit over .300 this season, led by Laura Lopez with a .500 average in just under 100 at-bats.

Collins split pitching time between Taylor Grissom and Tayler Atkinson, with Grissom standing out as the team’s ace, tallying 14 wins with an ERA just above 1.00.

If East can weather Collins’ offensive force, it will make its first trip to the state finals since 1995 when East lost 11-0 to Pasadena Dobie.
Forney softball was thrilled just to make it to the state tournament last year, meeting wild dreams of winning its semifinal match to advance to the state finals.

A year later, Forney hopes to win nothing less than gold.

“We’re really excited to get back down there and get another chance,” coach Eric Montgomery said. “We felt like we left some stuff on the table last year.”

“It’s not so much this year we’re just excited to be there,” Montgomery said. “We want to win it. We’re going to down there with the mentality that we’re going to win, we’re not just happy to be there.”

All but a handful of players on Forney’s roster experienced Austin last season and know the drill well. It can be mayhem with much shorter time to warm up than usual and rushing around the field to take pictures and get situated in the dugouts at Red & Charline McCombs Field on the campus of the University of Texas.

“You’re thrown on the field pretty quick and all of the sudden you’re playing and you didn’t even realize you walked in the door,” Montgomery said. “This year, they are going to be ready for it.”

Montgomery said his team has experience with pitching similar to Montgomery’s starter Katelyn Sanders in the pitching Forney faced in its district and in the regional final against Ennis pitcher Taylor Maliska. Both pitchers are not overpowering, Montgomery said, but can control both sides of the plate with very good accuracy.

Montgomery also has some of the best power numbers in the state, thanks to Cali Lanphear, who has sent just under 20 balls over the fence this season.

Forney will get a champions send-off Thursday morning, visiting several local elementary schools before making the trip to Austin. Typically, teams stop in Waco to take in a quick practice at Baylor, but the field is unavailable this year with an overabundance of people in the area for the NCAA baseball regional hosted by the Bears.

Mongomery said he would have to find other facilities to practice before they reach Austin to get plenty of sleep for a 9 a.m. first pitch Friday.

“They’re excited and they’re ready for it,” Montgomery said.