It’s another trip to the state tournament for Warren East, which opens play against Ashland Blazer in the KHSAA Fast Pitch State Softball Tournament at John Cropp Stadium at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
The Lady Raiders will be in the state tourney for the second straight year and third time since 2015, but it will be a little bit different this time – with the field whittled down from 16 to eight and the format changing from double elimination to single elimination.
“I like that setup a lot,” Warren East coach Philip McKinney said. “We are really excited about going. Like I said before, being one of the first eight teams to play in this format and being able to go up to UK … we are excited to play at another awesome college field and we are ready to get going.”
McKinney said the format means you can coach like a regular-season game, knowing that teams will only play one game a day – three games in three days maximum. He added the single-elimination format could be beneficial for his veteran team.
“This is my oldest team that I have had since 2010 and what comes with (that) is mature athletes who have gone through these battles before,” McKinney said. “I don’t believe we are going to be starstruck. I think once the game gets going and they take a few ground balls and have an at-bat, they are just going to settle into playing softball on another field.”
Switching from double elimination to single elimination does have its drawbacks, with teams no longer having a margin for error.
“It’s a bit nerve-wracking, knowing if you lose then you are out and there are no more games,” Warren East senior infielder Kya Elkin said.
Senior infielder Hailey Hymer said the team is ready for the new challenge.
“Last year, we were state runner-up, so I feel like we are held to a high standard,” Hymer said. “It’s going to fun to go up there and battle.”
Warren East (34-2) will open play against a familiar foe. Ashland Blazer is 25-11 after winning Region 16 and beating Johnson Central 1-0 in the Semi-State 8 game. The Kittens beat Warren East 2-1 in 10 innings in the 2015 state tournament.
“Ashland Blazer has won their region before and does have experience in the state tournament,” McKinney said. “This is a different experience. It’s an experience no one has had yet – being single elimination and playing at UK.”
A win Friday could set up a rematch with Central Hardin, which gave Warren East its first loss of the season May 13. If the Lady Raiders get to Sunday’s championship game, they could face a Louisville Male team looking to complete an undefeated season.
“I’ll leave all those storylines up to the media to write a great story,” McKinney said. “We are just going to try to piece ourselves into the storyline as best as we can and play softball. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever storyline is laid out there, then that is what it is. We are just excited to be in that storyline somehow, some way.”