Buffaloes seeded No. 4 for 6A state softball tourney

GCHS Athletics
Garden City High School's Rilee McGraw connects with a Hays pitch for a double during a game earlier this month at Tangeman Sports Complex.  The Bufaloes will open play in the Class 6A state softball tournament on Thursday.

There really isn’t any place in an eight-team state tournament bracket where you’re going to get a breather.

So when the Class 6A state softball brackets were released on Saturday after two-time defending state champion Lawrence-Free State nailed down the final berth after a two-day delay, the Garden City High School Buffaloes and Coach Trina Moquett learned of their quarterfinal opponent and began to make plans.

In the second of four quarterfinal games on Thursday, at Shawnee Mission District Softball Complex, the Buffs will take on Gardner-Edgerton’s Lady Trailblazers (16-4) at 11 a.m. They are in the upper bracket of the eight qualifying teams.

A victory Thursday would put the Buffs into Friday’s semifinal against the winner of No. 1 seed and unbeaten Topeka High (22-0) and No. 8 seed Olathe East (10-12). That would be an 11 a.m. first pitch. The second semifinal will be played at 1 p.m.

In the lower bracket, in the 3 p.m. quarterfinal, it will see the defending Free State Lady Firebirds (19-1) meeting No. 7 Olathe South (15-6) while No. 3 Topeka-Washburn Rural (20-2), the 2019 state runner-up, facing No. 6 seed Olathe North in the 5 p.m. finale.

The championship and consolation games will be played at 3 p.m. on the two fields of the SM District complex.

“I like where we’re at,” said Moquett of her 19-3 Buffs. “It gives us a good chance to get to that second day and then we’ll worry about that when we get there. You have to take care of business in the first game.”

Moquett will be taking her fourth GCHS team to the state in her eight actual seasons of coaching after the 2020 season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What she’s learned from those experiences, she hopes to pass on to her senior-dominated lineup. That, however, doesn’t take into consideration that the majority of seniors had little or no varsity experience until this season.

And what a season it has been.

They went 10-2 to capture the Western Athletic Conference title. Last Wednesday, they survived the big bats of Wichita Northwest to capture the 6A regional championship, 14-12, on their home field, in a big slugfest that saw the teams combined for 35 hits and 8 combined home runs (3 by the Buffs, 2 by Rilee McGraw).

“I think the key for us has been everybody has been stepping up and contributing,” Moquett said of her team, which is hitting at a red-hot .378 average. Nine of the 10 batters are hitting .319 and above, with sophomore Brie Manwarren leading the way with a .469 average. She has a team-high 42 RBIs and a team best 36 runs scored. McGraw, one of the senior mainstays at shortstop, leads the team with 8 home runs and has accounted for30 runs and 28 RBIs while hitting .437. Mya Cruz, another senior at third base, has driven in 25 runs. Jesy Foster has crossed the plate with 32 runs.

That power-packed lineup has averaged 10.4 runs per game while the team is giving up 5.36 runs per game behind the pitching of Manwarren (16-2, 3.19 ERA) and backup Gisselle Gutierrez (3-1). Manwarren has pitched the bulk of the games for Moquett and has recorded 181 strikeouts in 118.1 innings while issuing just 43 walks.

“I think everybody stepping up and contributing at the plate has made it difficult on the other team’s pitchers,” Moquett said. “We’ve started hitting on all cylinders in the last part of the season and our approach to hitting has just allowed us to get better.”

Moquett has said all along that this group of Buffs has that special chemistry, including not getting ruffled in the tightest of game situations. During this deep run, the Lady Buffs have won six games in their final at-bat, they have gone 3-1 in extra-inning games.

“They just seem to thrive when it’s all on the line,” Moquett said. “It’s their ability to focus at the right time. They support and encourage each other and seemingly don’t let the little things get in the way.”

Moquett said she would do her part to keep the Thursday quarterfinal game as much like a regular game as possible.

“This group likes clutch situations and we’ll do as much to keep that in check and keep it like a regular game,” Moquett said. “We don’t want to make it a big stage. Some people have doubted us most of the season, but I think with what we’ve got, we give ourselves a chance in every game.”

The teams have one common opponent and both lost that outing – Gardner-Edgerton falling 11-8 to Blue Valley-Southwest on May 5, and the Buffs dropping a 5-0 decision to Southwest on May 7 in the Emporia Classic.

“I really don’t know too much about them at this point,” Moquett said on Sunday afternoon. “We’ll be doing some checking out with other teams and hope to see some film.”

Kansas Class 6A State Softball

Thursday Quarterfinal Games

11 a.m.—Topeka High (22-0) vs. Olathe East (10-12); 1 p.m.—Garden City (19-3) vs. Gardner-Edgerton (16-4); 3 p.m.—Lawrence-Free State (19-1) vs. Olathe South (15-6); 5 p.m.—Topeka-Washburn Rural

(20-2) vs. Olathe North (16-6). Winners play at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday; Championship and Consolation games scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday.