By CONOR NICHOLL
Holcomb softball delivered the top season in school annals last season with a 20-4 mark and first-ever state tournament berth. The Longhorns started five freshmen. The quintet all returns in the same roles for a team that is statistically stronger than 2021 – and currently has the longest winning streak in 3A softball.
Holcomb’s standout sophomores include ace pitcher Korryn Johnson, shortstop and leadoff hitter Emma Cornelsen and catcher Rian Rodriguez. Second baseman Emily Dryden and left fielder Brooklyn Deniston are both sophomores.
Plus, third baseman Ryleigh McVey is one of six seniors. Last year, Johnson struck out 197 in 142 innings and posted a 3.20 ERA. Cornelsen hit .549, Rodriguez batted .506 and McVey at .422.
This year, those players have again enjoyed big years. Cornelsen paces the squad with a .564 average, while Rodriguez leads with seven homers and 34 RBI.
Holcomb stands at 18-2 and is the second seed in the 3A Cimarron regional. Scott City is the top seed at 17-1, and Cimarron/Ingalls stands at 15-5. Regional week starts Monday.
In 2021, Holcomb dropped a doubleheader to Scott City, though came back with two runs in the top of the seventh to defeat the Beavers in the regional championship game. Holcomb fell in the state quarterfinals to Hoisington/Central Plains.
Sports In Kansas charted each 3A team in 2022, along with every record from all classes since spring sports restarted after the 2020 pandemic. Holcomb is 38-6 in that stretch. Out of more than 230 programs, Holcomb is tied for the tenth-most victories in that span.
Teams ahead include four of the five 2021 state champions (Bishop Carroll, Cheney, Topeka High and Wamego) and a pair of runner-ups (Basehor-Linwood and Burlingame). Additionally, Mission Valley and Central Plains were final four squads. The bulk of those teams, notably Topeka, BC, Cheney, Burlingame and Central Plains, are senior-laden.
Holcomb, though, continues to carve its history with a much younger group. Coach Jennifer Barrett is in her 14th season with the Longhorns and carries a 170-102 record. In 2022, Holcomb opened with two wins versus Hugoton. On April 5, the Longhorns lost a doubleheader to Scott City: 5-2 and 11-0.
The Longhorns have not lost since.
“They are very good girls and love the game,” Barrett said.
Holcomb carries a 16-game winning streak into the postseason. In 3A, Kingman stands second with 14 straight victories, while Beloit has captured 12 in a row. Nine Holcomb girls are hitting .300 or better and seven are above .400. Many of the softball Longhorns play for Barrett in volleyball.
Rodriguez’s seven homers are believed to be the school record. She carries a .446 average.
Johnson, one of Kansas’ best pitchers and among 3A Player of the Year candidates, has 184 strikeouts against 30 walks in 110 innings.
Johnson has posted an 18-2 record and 2.03 ERA. After a big summer on the travel circuit last year, Johnson is playing with 316 Elite out of Wichita last fall and this summer. She has hit 58 to 60 miles per hour consistently and throws fast, change, curve and rise ball.
At the plate, Johnson is batting .451. Johnson has thrown no-hitters this spring. In late April, she took a line drive off the shin, remained in the game and finished with double-digit strikeouts in a victory versus Ulysses.
Seniors Emma Sapien has enjoyed a great season at first base after she missed last spring with a torn ACL. She carries a .422 average.
Seniors Bella Lopez and Ari Jimenez play outfield. Senior Kyrah Lozano is the designated hitter with a .298 mark, and Morgan Hammond at Utility. Jimenez has a .488 average and .611 on-base percentage.
Lopez is batting .339, Deniston stands at .429. Cornelsen has delivered a mammoth year with a .564 average, 44 hits, 39 singles and 36 runs scored, all team-bests.
Class 3A is generally very deep and balanced, but this year has likely more contenders than most. Seven teams have one or two losses: Hoisington/Central Plains (19-1), Scott City (17-1), Holcomb, Council Grove (18-2), Kingman (18-2), Columbus (17-2) and Rossville (17-2). No squad is undefeated.
Plus, Beloit is 15-3 behind ace Chloe Ohlde, statistically one of Kansas’ best arms. Frontenac and Cheney, the state’s last two state titlists, are both 17-3. Silver Lake, state runner-up in ’19 and ’21, stands at 14-6 behind a brutal schedule that includes competitive losses to 5A Basehor-Linwood (20-0) and 4A Wamego (one loss).
Like Holcomb, Scott City, Council Grove, Kingman and Columbus are teams that have generally had success, but no state tournament wins in recent history. All five squads could finish with the best season its program annals.
Columbus, Frontenac and Girard (16-4) headline the Baxter Springs regional. Council Grove paces its own regional. Hoisington and Beloit are in the Hays-TMP regional. Kingman, Cheney and Haven (16-4) are all in the Kingman regional. Rossville, Nemaha Central (16-4) and Silver Lake are in the Sabetha regional.
In 2021, Holcomb tallied 9.8 runs per game and allowed 4.6. This year, the Longhorns are up to 12.1 runs a game and 2.6 allowed. The Longhorns’ resume includes two wins against TMP (4-1, 7-6) and two victories versus Cimarron (2-1, 13-8). TMP is 10-8.
In the games, Johnson combined for 18 strikeouts. Recently, Holcomb ended with four straight wins against solid GWAC foes Goodland and Colby. In a 13-1 win versus Goodland, Sapien had three hits and four RBI, per GameChanger boxscore.
In an 11-0 win, Johnson struck out 15 and Rodriguez drove in five runs. Against Colby, Holcomb won 14-4 and 5-2. Cornelsen had three hits, and Johnson drove in three runs in the first win. In the second contest, Johnson struck out 11 and Sapien recorded a pair of hits.