They expect to have a battle on their hands when they square off with Janesville tonight in the Iowa Class 1A Region 3 softball championship game, but the Preston Trojans believe they have an advantage in at least one area.
They know what it’s like to play at the state tournament, having done it last year and in 2008.
The Trojans can earn a return trip to Fort Dodge by winning the battle of ranked opponents in the 7 p.m. game in Farley. Preston (28-6) is ranked fourth in the Class 1A state rankings, while Janesville (33-7) is No. 14.
“Having a pitcher and catcher who already have been to Fort Dodge, and two senior outfielders, definitely is an advantage,” coach Sarah Manning said Monday night after Preston advanced with a 2-1 victory against Alburnett.
Senior all-state pitcher Kelcie Bormann and senior catcher Megan Zeimet, whose home run accounted for both of Preston’s runs Monday, are ready to take center stage.
“The difference is we’re the senior leadership now,” Zeimet said. “We can’t rely on anyone else.”
The Trojans have been relying on Bormann for five years now. She earned her 100th career victory earlier this season and this week was named to the Big East Conference’s Most Valuable Player for the third time. She said the experience of making it to state last year had a benefit for this year’s team.
“I guess it keeps our heads straight,” she said.
They hope the payoff is tonight. But Janesville boasts plenty of experience, too, with seven seniors on the roster.
“Janesville is good defensively and has a nice little pitcher, too,” Manning said.
The pitcher is senior Shelby Murley, who has a 28-7 record and 1.77 earned-run average with 217 strikeouts in 217 2⁄3 innings pitched. She also comes in with a .442 batting average.
Janesville has two other batters hitting above .400 — senior Olivia Fisher (.455, 43 RBIs) and freshman Victoria Leyh (.407, 26 RBIs) — while seniors Jenny Monaghan and Erica Quistorff enter with averages of .364 and .357, respectively.
The Wildcats advanced to the regional final with a 5-4 win against Edgewood-Colesburg on Monday. Three of their losses this season were against seventh-ranked Don Bosco of Gilbertville.
“I know they’re ranked,” Bormann said, “but rankings don’t matter.”
While the same goes for the Trojans, they’re hoping their state tournament experience makes the difference.