Nex-Tech Wireless Central Kansas Athletes of the Month: Powered by veterans and freshmen, Haven softball rolls into another final four

Freshman Avery Brawner has enjoyed a huge season for Haven softball.


Haven softball finished 17-5 in 2022. The perennial power Wildcats struggled a little in the circle and fell to Cheney in a 3A regional semifinal. Haven took third in the Central Kansas League and didn’t make the regional championship for the first time since 2013. Haven had its normal high-octane offense with 14.2 runs a contest, though permitted 5.5. The Wildcats posted a 5.34 earned-run average in its first 19 games.

This year, 15th-year coach Darin Ashworth knew he had solid returning talent and depth. Two-time all-stater Amie Yoder graduated, though seven of the top-eight in batting average returned. Sadie Estill was back after a .531 average, and Brookelyn Barnett carried a .506 average.

BrieAnn Brawner, Brylie Warden and Yoder logged the bulk of the innings in the circle. In ’22, Estill was first team all-state, BrieAnn Brawner honorable mention.

BrieAnn Brawner has committed to Hutchinson Community College softball, Barnett to Labette CC softball. Kelsi Kincaid is a 2023 state powerlifting champion.

In the preseason, Ashworth believed his team was probably third in the Central Kansas League behind highly experienced 4A Pratt and Hoisington, a returning 3A state qualifier. As a team, Haven carried a .443/550/589 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) line with six homers and 71 strikeouts.

Sophie Faidley batted .478 as a freshman, Kincaid carried a .460 average as junior, Warden was at .387, and freshman Trista Rogers hit .367.

“We knew we had a catcher, a shortstop and a really talented pair of outfielders, a third baseman and so on,” Ashworth told SIK last week. “And we just kind of cautiously optimistic about our incoming group of freshmen, and one of those was Avery Brawner.”

Brawner was a top-six player for a Haven girls’ basketball team that finished 16-6. Brawner has significantly improved Haven’s pitching staff and become the workhorse. She has improved command and velocity. A couple coaches have commented to Ashworth of the “noticeable” uptick in speed as the spring has progressed. Brawner is getting to the point where she can throw the ball by batters and is locating really well.

“Has developed tremendously over the course of the last three months,” Ashworth said. “And she has really propelled us to the success that we’ve had this year, and I think what’s really neat about it is Avery has not pitched a lot in her career.

“And to see her from the beginning in early March until now, the development is incredible,” Ashworth added. “And a great testament to her and a couple of our assistant coaches that have really worked hard with her. We wouldn’t be (23)-1 without her. I think we’d be a pretty good team with what we had in the circle returning, but Avery has really taken us to the next level with her development in the circle.”

Plus, the experienced offense saw an increase in power and will likely set a school record for fewest strikeouts.

The mix has yielded another huge season for Ashworth, who improved to 263-71 with the Wildcats. Haven, like many of the remaining final four softball teams from the five classes, has navigated a highly challenging schedule. Haven went 7-0 against teams that played in regional championship games and won the CKL.

Haven finished 6-0 against teams that won at least 17 games: Pratt, Hoisington, Kingman and Wichita Trinity Academy. The Wildcats advanced to state as Class 3A’s top seed after it won the Cheney regional, the classification’s toughest postseason bracket. Ashworth, who won a 2002 baseball state championship at Elkhart, has long preached that reaching the state tournament is a great achievement for any team.

On Thursday, Haven moved a day closer to another milestone: the first softball state title in school history. In rainy conditions, Haven rolled over Scott City, 17-2, in a four-inning game in a Class 3A quarterfinal in Manhattan. It marked the biggest margin of victory of any quarterfinal Thursday.


Haven has enjoyed great success with Dwight Roper in girls’ basketball and Ashworth in softball. The list of Haven girls’ basketball/softball players who have enjoyed all-state careers and produced in college is several dozen. Haven softball has won at least 20 games in five of the last seven seasons.

Haven is at state for the seventh time in the last nine played seasons. Haven has taken state runner-up twice, both in Class 4A, Division II, in ’16-17. Haven has been third on three occasions: ’07, ’18, ’21. The program has superb school and town support.

Overall, Haven’s lone team athletic title came in 1985 and 1987 sand green boys’ golf, and academic crowns with speech/four-person debate in 1994, 1997, 1998 and 2000. Baseball finished second in 2003.

This season, 3A was again a gauntlet. No. 1 Frontenac, the defending state champion, and No. 2 Silver Lake didn’t reach state. SL swept 5A state qualifier Basehor-Linwood. Frontenac rolled 4A state qualifier Fort Scott and lost just twice to Kansas teams.

All four remaining teams have great softball history, though none have won a state title since at least 2000. In Friday’s semifinals, Haven (23-1) will play Santa Fe Trail (20-3).

This is very likely 3A’s best offense against 3A’s best pitcher. Haven has scored in double digits in 21 of 24 games.

“We have hit good pitching, we have hit bad pitching, we’ve hit average pitching,” Ashworth said. “I think it’s a good offense that’s fairly balanced through the lineup. We’ve got girls through the middle and bottom that can hit.”

Haven’s offense has delivered more than 14 runs a game.

SFT shutout Beloit, 5-0, behind another shutout from junior Kaelee Washington, the reigning 3A pitcher of the year and Kansas commit. Santa Fe Trail has allowed just 78 runs this season and shutout its last four opponents. Washington has carried a 0.79 earned-run average. Ashworth has seen state tournaments when ace pitcher has taken over and led a team to three straight wins.

Southeast of Saline (22-2) will face Rossville (18-4). Semifinal start time is 11 a.m.

SES beat Burlington, 1-0. Rossville rolled Columbus, 19-7. Rossville is the lone team to beat 4A top-ranked Wamego and swept Santa Fe Trail on March 30. Last year, SFT beat Rossville for third place. Rossville’s lone title came in 2000, SFT’s crowns were in ’95 and ’96. SES has multiple recent state trips.

Still, Haven will likely accomplish plenty of school history – even if it doesn’t win a title. Haven is a victory away from tying 2018 for the school mark for single season wins. The Wildcats have remarkably struck out just 47 times. (Santa Fe Trail has 111 strikeouts).

“I knew at the beginning the offense had pretty good potential,” Ashworth said. “And I told the girls from day one that they were going to be good, and I talked to them (last week) that they have proven me right all along the way. The offense has especially early allowed us to kind of make some mistakes.”


Haven carries a .442 average and .530 on-base percentage, but significantly upped its slugging from 2022 to .665. Haven has hit 12 homers, five from Avery Brawner.

The 5-foot-11 Brawner is hitting left-handed. She has been swinging left handed for only about 18 months. At first, she worked some as a slapper, and then noticed she was pretty strong simply hitting.

“Physically imposing girl at the plate and the circle,” Ashworth said. “Sky is the limit for her. … Boy, she is athletic and a hard-working kid. She just wants to be good.”

Estill is in strong position for 3A player of the year with a .608 average and 14 extra-base hits. Freshman Morgan O’Neal has a .493 average with eight doubles and four homers. Senior Brie Brawner is also hitting .493 with 16 extra base hits. Kincaid, the leadoff batter, is at .470, one-hundredth ahead of Avery Brawner.

“They’ve exceeded expectations at the plate,” Ashworth said of the freshmen. “They sure can hit.”

Faidley is at .428, Barnett with a .416 mark and a team-high 10 doubles and Warden with a .394 mark. Plus, freshman Mayzie Warden carries a .326 mark. Haven’s offensive output is nearly identical to last season with 14.1 runs per game. The underrated Barnett has caught the last three years. Ashworth labeled her a “pro” behind the plate.

“It’s really fun to see those seniors finish up really strong,” Ashworth said.

This year, the Wildcats, though, have allowed just 49 runs, down to 2.1 a contest. Avery Brawner has thrown 93.1 of the team’s 117 innings. She has a 16-1 record and 1.50 ERA with 111 strikeouts and 42 walks.

“We can have an off night on offense and still win a ball game because of her,” Ashworth said.

Kincaid starts in center field, Brie Brawner at shortstop, Estill in left field, Barnett at catcher, and O’Neal at second base. Faidley is at third, while sophomore Taylor Rogers is at first and Warden in right. Haven drew 15 walks Thursday in the weather conditions, and Brawner hit a double.

“I am thrilled for Avery and how the development has come along, because of the effort that she has put in,” Ashworth said. “She is a really smart girl, and she is a student of the game, and she is kind of veracious in her desire to get better, and she really puts in the time both on the field and off, and I am so excited for her future. She still has got room for so much development.”

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