The Marquette Mustangs softball team are hitting the road.
The Mustangs (4-3) will play in the 29th annual Ozark Fall Festival Softball Tournament. It will be their first appearance in the event.
The Mustangs will play at least five games with three games on Friday and two games on Saturday in the 16-team tournament. Games will be played on the high school fields of Ozark, Nixa, Republic, and Springfield Kickapoo.
Marquette is in Pool D. The other teams in the pool are host Kickapoo, Carthage and Grain Valley.
The Mustangs open have three games Friday. They open against Carthage at 1:30 p.m. at Kickapoo. At 3 p.m., Marquette meets Grain Valley at Kickapoo. The Mustangs face Kickapoo at 6 p.m.
After pool play, teams will be seeded from 1st to 16th. Seeding will be based on: 1) Record 2) Runs Allowed 3) Runs Scored 4) Head-to-Head 5) Coin Flip.
The top four teams out of pool play will move to the Platinum bracket. Teams five through eight will be in the Gold bracket. Teams nine through 12 will be in the Silver bracket. The remaining for teams will play in the Bronze bracket.
Coach Adam Starling is ready to see how his Mustangs perform in the big tournament.
“There are quality teams from throughout the state that will be there,” Starling said.
The chance to go out of town will help his squad have good team bonding experience.
“Whenever the players have an opportunity to spend time together, especially off the field I think it can speed up the process of building a team mentality,” Starling said. “I know the girls are looking forward to the trip and the opportunity to play some strong competition in Springfield.”
The Mustangs finished third in the recent Parkway Tournament.
Starling was excited about what he would see from his Mustangs heading into the tournament.
“With such a young team I was really looking forward to watching them compete and seeing how the girls would respond in difficult situations,” Starling said.
Marquette defeated Parkway North 4-2 and Mehlville 10-0 in pool play. The Mustangs then Pattonville 14-0 in next round.
Starling witnessed good things by his squad in those games.
“The girls did a good job handling some tough defensive situations in the Parkway North game,” Starling said. “I felt as if we had a lot of players with first game of the season jitters and as the game went on they were able to relax and be themselves.”
Marquette lost to eventual tournament champion Fort Zumwalt West 6-4 in the semifinals.
“The Fort Zumwalt West game was a lot of fun. They are a very good team in all aspects. I was hoping to match up with them when I saw the tournament bracket as I knew they would be a strong team this season,” Starling said. “Both teams played excellent games. The difference was that they came through with hits when they had runners on base and we stranded a lot of our runners when we had opportunities.
“A big part of us stranding base runners was because of multiple outstanding defensive plays that they made with runners on base.”
That left the Mustangs to play for third place in the tourney. Starling wanted to make sure his team knew it was a big test for them.
“We discussed the importance of being ourselves and grinding through the game,” Starling said. “It is always hard to play a fifth game in three days. You have to stay mentally sharp and communicate with one another throughout the game.”
The Mustangs did just that. Marquette defeated Parkway West 4-2. It was came where the squad had to rally in order to win.
The Mustangs were trailing 2-1 going into the bottom of the seventh.
“The team was confident and it was great to see senior Katie Weiss come through with a big hit in the sixth inning,” Starling said. “Sophomore Kami Matthews pitched a great game going five shutout innings and it would have been disappointing to waste her effort.”
The Mustangs scored three runs in the seventh to record the victory.
“We had a double a walk and were able to make the most of a couple Parkway West defensive miscues to score the runs,” Starling said. “Freshman Maddie Carney led off the inning with a double that was followed by a (sophomore) Sophia Dunn walk. (Junior) Lindsey Stelzer hit a ball deep to the gap that was dropped that scored two runs and got Lindsey to third base. She would score on an error by the third baseman.”
The Mustangs felt good to end tournament play on a strong note.
“The team was excited to finish the week strong,” Starling said. “Four wins in the tournament is a great start to our season. The girls really had to battle in three of the five games and they did not shy away from competing and sticking together in many tough situations when the opponent applied pressure. I was very proud of their efforts.”
Several Mustangs stood out in the tournament for Starling.
“Kami Matthews and Natalie Cox both pitched very well in their opportunities,” Starling said. “Mackenzie Gareau and Lindsey Stelzer each had a combined 11 runs scored or runs batted in. Brooke Branstetter found a way to get on base nine times.”
The 4-1 start left Starling feeling good about his team.
“We are going to learn from these first five games,” Starling said. “Some things we did well and others we need to improve on, but overall I am pleased with how the girls played.”