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STATE SOFTBALL: Surging Foothill leaves early struggles far behind

Foothill’s softball team ended March looking like anything but a state title contender.

The Falcons were 6-12 overall, having lost seven straight games, including their Southeast League opener.

“We were losing a lot,” said senior outfielder RaeAnn Brems. “We needed to get it together, and I didn’t know if we would be able to do it.”

A turn of the calendar led to a turn of fortune for Foothill, which has won 14 of its last 15 games and is making its first trip to the state tournament in three years.

The Sunrise Region champion Falcons (20-13) will meet Northern Region No. 2 seed Spanish Springs (28-7-1) in the opening game of the Division I state softball tournament at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at UNR’s Hixson Field.

Sunset Region champion Palo Verde (30-6) and Northern champion Reed (31-5) will meet at 4:30 p.m. The double-elimination tournament ends Saturday.

“We all got to know each other better and got closer as a team,” said senior outfielder Kelsey McFarland. “It took off from there. We all came together and worked hard in practice and in games.”

Brems is the only player on the roster who played in the 2011 state tournament, Foothill’s last appearance. The Falcons are a young team, with six sophomores and two freshmen on the roster. There are only four seniors, and McFarland is in her first varsity season.

“It is really a young group as far as working together with each other, but they seem to have the same mindset,” said Foothill coach Tom Mayes. “They just believed in each other. They’re a different group. They do a lot of things different that I really like, being old school as I am. We let them do their thing. Everybody just works hard when it comes time to work hard. They’ve got each other’s back.”

Mayes guided the Falcons to the state tournament four times in the five-year span that ended in 2011, almost always in the same fashion as this season — taking some lumps early while figuring out what might help the team in the end.

Of the 12 losses in March, three came to eventual region finalists Palo Verde, Centennial and Coronado, and six were to out-of-state teams.

Facing quality pitching and hitting made the Falcons better in all facets.

“A lot of that came from our pre-league schedule, being in against some teams that are highly ranked,” Mayes said. “And they’ve stepped up and played some good defense, too. We don’t have any overpowering pitching. We’re not striking out a lot of people, but I’ve always told everybody that it’s not our pitchers’ job to strike people out; entice the batter to hit the ball and let the others play some defense.”

Since April 1, the Falcons are averaging 11.1 runs per game and allowing just 3.53 runs per game. McFarland (.545), Sarah Maddox (.448), Hannah Stevens (.416), Alexia Campbell (.414), Jordan Corn (.412) and Brems (.404) all have batting averages better than .400.

They win close games, too. Three of Foothill’s last five wins were by one run.

“A lot of people thought we wouldn’t get four wins to win region, and we did,” Brems said. “People doubt us because of our record, but we don’t play like our record shows at all.”

Still, the Falcons face stiff competition.

Palo Verde won the state title in 2011 and was in the championship game last year. Reed is a perennial state contender, and Spanish Springs won three state crowns between 2007 and 2010.

“We have a group that hasn’t had a taste,” Mayes said. “I’m hoping that bit of desire and determination is a little more pronounced than before.

“It’s wide open to any of the four teams that are there. All four of us have a shot, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Contact reporter Bartt Davis at bdavis@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5230.

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