By CONOR NICHOLL
Frontenac returned significant experience from a 2021 state qualifying team. The Raiders had senior shortstop Heather Arnett, a Pittsburg State commit and now the state’s all-time leader in career stolen bases. The leadoff hitter, Arnett has earned first team all-state honors each season and was a starter on the 2019 state title squad.
Plus, an accomplished group of veterans included first baseman Hattie Pyle, catcher Kaitlyn Hayslip, outfielders Kelby Burke and Abi Beaman and second baseman Annie Lee were back. Arnett, Beaman and pitcher Mia Brown were each first team all-state. Plus, longtime coach Cassie Rhuems knew she had a quality arm in freshman Avery Johnson.
On April 14, Frontenac swept Prairie View, 15-5 and a 5-4 extra inning win to move to 8-0. However, the Raiders split with Girard on April 18 and took another defeat April 23. On May 5, Frontenac split with Columbus with a 9-8 win and an 11-2 loss. Frontenac was 12-0 against Columbus in the previous nine seasons, per SIK research. Columbus won the CNC title.
“We battled some mental lapses through the season, just the kids not really understanding the quality of ball that they were capable of playing,” Rhuems told SIK. “I felt like I wasn’t getting enough from them to be the kind of ball club that I knew we were capable of being. Just some battles that we had to work through as one, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Frontenac closed out the regular season with two wins against a solid Wellsville team. The Raiders were in the challenging Baxter Springs 3A regional with Columbus, Girard and Baxter.
“And we had to have some kids figure out what their role was on our team and what we needed from them to get our team a chance to be successful,” she said. “And I think once everybody realized what their role was on the team and what we needed from them, I think they really started gelling and working as one unit really well.”
A big change occurred with Brown and Johnson. Rhuems said Brown “had a great season” last year in the circle. However, Frontenac was a better overall team with Brown at third base and Johnson pitching. Frontenac elected to make the change before regionals.
“As the season went on, we just realized that defensively we were a little bit more competitive with Mia at third base and Avery was capable of doing the job we needed her to do from the circle,” Rhuems said. “Offensively, we made some adjustments midway through the season, moving from some kids around.”
The move helped Frontenac click with three dominant regional victories: 10-0 versus Neodesha, 10-0 against Girard and 12-4 against Baxter. In four combined games against Girard and Baxter during the regular season, Frontenac collectively tallied 24 runs.
The sterling play continued in the Class 3A state tournament when Frontenac captured its third all-time softball title. All three have come under Rhuems with the first two in ’16 and ’19.
Rhuems is the lone coach in Frontenac history to win more than one state title, per KSHSAA archives. Rhuems was especially pleased with her team’s grit and gelling as the season progressed.
“They are all incredibly special,” Rhuems said. “But I think just watching this group grow, the way they grew as people and as athletes is definitely more rewarding than anything. These kids certainly earned everything they accomplished, and I am just really proud of them, love them to death. I say it – I will say it again – I just feel like I coach the best kids.”
Rhuems has more than 220 wins at her alma mater. She is already one of the top coaches in Kansas high school softball history. Silver Lake and Bishop Carroll have combined for 27 titles, though both teams had multiple head coaches. SL’s Bob Craig had the most with the two schools at four, per KSHSAA archives. Craig is retired.
Olathe East’s Jeff Hulse won seven, Salina’s Daryl Hoelting picked up five titles (three at Sacred Heart, two at Salina South), Chase County’s Brian Potter has five, and Riverton’s Brian Mitchell has four. Of those, only Mitchell is still active. Current BC coach Steve Harshberger has three titles.
In highly balanced 3A, No. 5 seeded Frontenac defeated Kingman, 7-3, in a marquee quarterfinal matchup Thursday. Senior-laden Kingman was considered a strong state favorite after a 3-0 mark versus defending state champion Cheney.
“We crushed the ball last night, one through nine, we were on fire,” Rhuems said.
In the semifinals, the Raiders changed their offensive game plan against Santa Fe Trail ace Kaelee Washington and eventually pulled away with a 10-0 win. The Raiders had a rematch versus Prairie View in the final, scored four runs in the first and won 7-1.
“They really showed who they were as a team in the regional tournament and here in the state tournament,” Rhuems said. “…They supported each other, they had fun along the way, and played some really good softball.”
Frontenac finished 23-3, its most wins of any of its three state teams. Rhuems was confident entering the rematch against Prairie View. PV finished 21-5 and had the best year in school annals.
“Honestly, I knew my team was better defensively today than we were back when we played them earlier this season,” Rhuems said. “I knew Avery was better today than she was the last time we played them.”
Frontenac outscored its three state opponents 14-0 in the first two innings, including 10-0 in the first inning. The Raiders made three errors at state, opponents had 14. Johnson pitched 19 innings, struck out 19 and walked just one.
On the baseball side, Columbus and Girard finished 2-4 respectively in 3A baseball. Colony-Crest earned fourth in 2-1A. All three teams enjoyed the best season in school annals.
“I am a defensive person,” Rhuems said. “I think defense is something that you can always control and it’s something that we drill regularly at practice. We put a lot of pressure on our kids at practice to able to execute defensively.”
At state, Arnett paced Frontenac with a .583 average, eight runs scored and six stolen bases. Frontenac knew Arnett would immediately steal second, and Rhuems said Arnett “nine times out of 10” would quickly swipe third. Frontenac didn’t have completed season and career statistics as of Friday afternoon, but Arnett could have broken more state records, including single season steals.
Beaman and Lee both batted .556. Pyle hit .500 at state and hit the team’s lone homer. Madison Logiudic carried a .333 average. Defensively, Lee played well at second base.
“Each of those big moments came from somebody different on our team, and I think that was why we were so hard to beat,” Rhuems said.
On Friday, Frontenac opened with Santa Fe Trail. Washington had an earned-run average under 1.00 entering state. In the quarterfinals, she defeated No. 1 seed Hoisington/Central Plains with 14 strikeouts and zero earned runs allowed.
Then, Frontenac delivered seven hits and five runs (three earned) against Washington in 4.1 innings. Washington struck out six, though the Raiders scored two runs apiece in the first and second. SFT committed seven errors, Frontenac zero.
“We knew we were going to have beat a good pitcher,” Rhuems said. “She overpowered some of our hitters, so we opted to go to the short game, and it really benefited us. We were able to get some kids on base, steal a lot of bases, put some pressure on and try to take extra bases on plays.”
Versus Prairie View, Arnett went 3 of 4 with three runs scored. Logiudic, a freshman left fielder, was bumped to the No. 2 spot in the order this spring. She was 2 of 4 with two runs scored. Kaitlyn Hayslip drove a double.
Arnett opened up the first with a single, and then stole second and third on consecutive pitches. Logiudic had an infield single. Beaman walked to load the bases. After a popup, Brown and Lee walked for a 2-0 lead. PV switched pitchers. Frontenac tallied two more runs on a fielder’s choice and an error.
“I knew if they went out and did what they were capable of doing and playing softball the way I knew they were capable of good things were going to happen,” Rhuems said.