The Marquette Mustangs are back in the Class 4 softball Final Four for the second time in three years.
The Mustangs (27-3) play Francis Howell (24-9) in a Class 4 state semifinal at 1 p.m. Friday (Oct. 20) at the Killian Sports Complex in Springfield. In the other semifinal matchup, Staley (26-2) will play n Blue Springs South (23-9). The winners meet for the state title at 2 p.m. Saturday. The losers will play at 5 p.m. Friday for third place.
Two years ago, Staley defeated Marquette 10-6 to win the state crown.
This is where her squad wanted to be, Marquette coach Amy Doyle said.
“Every team starts the season with the Final Four as the ultimate goal,” said Doyle, whose Mustangs fell in the sectional round last year in her first season as the head coach. “We have been working hard all season to do what’s in our power to control the outcomes at each stage in our season.”
The Mustangs have been awfully good this season. Marquette won its first 18 games before sustaining a loss. this season. The Mustangs enter the Final Four winning nine of its last 11 games.
Marquette had plenty of talented, experience players returning. With nine starters back, this group wanted to make a trip to Greene Country and have a chance to play for the state championship.
The girls took it step by step.
“Our team was hungry to have a successful season and they were able to control what they could control this season,” Doyle said.
After winning the district championship, Marquette got a rematch with Washington in the sectional. The Mustangs scored a 5-2 win.
“Washington is a great team and we were excited to have a redo of sorts from last year’s loss,” Doyle said.
The Mustangs had to rally to win. Washington took a 2-0 lead. Marquette came back to tie it and then go on to win with three runs in the fifth inning.
This development did not surprise Doyle.
“Time and time again our players have overcome adversity and that just speaks to resiliency of this group,” Doyle said.
The big fifth inning saw many contributions.
“It truly was a team effort,” Doyle said. “Mackenzie Gareau started off the inning with a single, Abby Richmond bunted to move her over and ended up getting on base herself on an error. Lillie Knesel sacrificed and also got on base on an error and Mackenzie scored on the error.
“Alyssa Werner hit a sacrifice fly bringing Abby Richmond home, and then Kelsey Lenox brought in Lillie Knesel.”
The led Marquette into the quarterfinal round. The Mustangs faced Seckman, a team Marquette beat 1-0 in regular season.
Doyle expected a tough game.
“Seckman always fields a great team,” Doyle said. “We knew going in that we would have our work cut out for us.”
Marquette punched its ticket to state with an 8-2 victory. Junior catcher Tabitha Cacheris drove in three runs with a triple and a single. Winning pitcher Annah Junge drove in two runs on her third home of the season.
Those two have contributed to the all season for the Mustangs.
“Tabby has come through for us time and time again,” Doyle said. “She is a very versatile and athletic player. She has been phenomenal for us this year. Annah came up big for us with her home run in her at bat because it relieved the pressure on the defense.”
Also in the win, two school records were established.
Junior first baseman Eileen McGinnis broke the single season record for RBIs when she singled home a run against Seckman. McGinnis, who also pitches, has driven in 54 runs this season.
Junge, who is 17-2, broke Marquette’s record for strikeouts in a single season. She struck out 12 Seckman hitters. For the season, she has 203 strikeouts.
“She is a such a force on the mound,” Doyle said.
Chris Meador was the coach two years when he led Marquette to Springfield. He retired after the season from coaching.
Doyle took over. Now she is taking Marquette to the Final Four as the head coach after doing it several times as an assistant.
More important, she is happy for her players to have the chance.
“I am really excited that our players get to experience the Final Four; some for the first time, and some for the second time,” Doyle said. “The championship series is a really special thing to be a part of and I am so excited to be going back with the Mustangs. This will be my fifth trip to the Final Four — three times as Marquette’s assistant coach in 2003, 2004, and 2006 and my second time as a head coach — once with Parkway North in 2013 and now in 2017.”
Marquette finished fourth in 2004 and 2006. Parkway North came in fourth in 2013.
In facing Francis Howell in the semifinal, Marquette meets a team that had handed it one of its rare losses this season. The Vikings beat Marquette 8-6 back on Sept. 20.
“Francis Howell is a great team,” Doyle said. “We have a lot of respect for the success that they have had this season and in previous years.”
In order for the Mustangs to play for a state championship again, Doyle said her squad needs to play well.
“We will have to play our best ball offensively and defensively against Francis Howell on Friday to have the honor to play for the state championship on Saturday,” Doyle said.