By CONOR NICHOLL
Troy fifth-year softball coach Kyle McConnaughey knew he had a highly experienced 2022 group. The Trojans enjoyed their best season in school history with a 15-4 finish last year and a regional championship loss to Mission Valley, an eventual third-place team at state. Troy opened 10-0.
“The girls were upset, but they went right back to work,” McConnaughey said. “I think three or four days later, they made shirts that said, ‘Unfinished Business.’” It’s already a mindset that they had in their heads, that they were going back for it again.”
McConnaughey set what he labeled a “very lofty” offensive goal for Troy: score at least 14 runs a game. Troy has six seniors: center fielder Reagan Hill, third baseman/outfielder Claire Winder, catcher Emma McConnaughey, second baseman Paige Hinds, pitcher/shortstop Avery Euler and first baseman Jacey Moore.
Plus, Troy has outstanding junior shortstop/ace pitcher Paityn Engemann. Many of the Trojans, including all the seniors and two sophomores, have participated on high-level travel summer ball at some point. The seniors have played together since they were little. All nine starters have played competition softball.
“The experience level on this team is something you probably see on your higher end high schools, your 3, 4A schools,” McConnaughey said. “Not so much you’d see in a 1A.”
Troy has started 15-0 and has averaged 14.2 runs per game. McConnaughey has been most pleased with the offense. Last season, Troy averaged 10.2 runs per game, including two losses to Oskaloosa, a split with Onaga and the regional defeat. McConnaughey has continually stressed putting the ball in play and staying positive.
“I love defense, but batting was a thing we all had to get better at,” McConnaughey told SIK.
The Trojans have scored at least nine runs in every contest en route to the best start in program annals. This could be the best girls’ team, regardless of sport, in Troy history.
“I am real happy with our performance so far,” McConnaughey said.
Per KSHSAA archives, the best all-time state showing by a Troy girls’ team is fourth in 1A cross country in 2008. The Trojans were also sixth in cross country in 1995 and finished between eighth and tenth each year from ’88-90.
Volleyball finished fourth in 1988 and qualified for state in ’87 and ’01, though went 0-3 at state in those seasons. Troy girls’ basketball has one all-time state berth, in 2002.
“Hats off to their parents that took the time and got them into the sport,” McConnaughey said of the current group.
That includes Engemann’s well-known 10-0 perfect game versus Onaga on April 14. She faced 18 batters – and struck out all 18. Before the last out, Euler told Engemann she had struck out every batter she had faced, which gave Engemann a little nerves. She also went 4 of 4 with a homer in the first game of the doubleheader.
Engemann’s feat is highly rare across softball for all levels. New York reported this happening just once in its state in recent history. On April 13, 2021, North Texas pitcher Hope Trautwein became the first NCAA pitcher to strike out every batter she faced in a win versus Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Engemann used four or five pitches last season and has gone back to two or three this spring. McConnaughey has called pitches. Engemann throws low to mid-60s and strong fastball command, along with a rise ball that McConnaughey said “really works” and is the “go-to pitch.” Her changeup is starting to throw teams off.
“If I can keep her comfortable and she is able to pitch what she wants to pitch that’s what makes the thing tick,” he said. “And witnessing that the other night, to be honest with you, it didn’t set in with me until probably the ride home.”
A few days later, McConnaughey listened to the radio broadcast.
“It’s one of those moments that you will probably never be part of again,” he said.
On April 21, Troy delivered impressive 15-0 and 14-1 wins against perennial power Oskaloosa.
Before this season, Troy was 0-18 against Oskaloosa dating back to 2011, per MaxPreps archives. That included losses by a combined score of 22-2 last spring.
Troy paces the 2-1A Wathena-Riverside regional. The Trojans and McLouth (12-3) easily pace the regional. They were expected to meet in a key Friday doubleheader. Ell-Saline (14-0) and Troy are the lone undefeated 2-1A squads. Troy is looking for the first softball state tournament appearance in school history.
“Give these girls something real special moving on in their careers,” he said.
Troy never defeated McLouth, though the squads have not played since 2015. Troy lost, 5-3, in the last matchup on May 19, 2015.
Engemann and the seniors have led the way. Troy collectively carries a .493 team average through 11 contests.
Hill, the leadoff hitter, delivered a .472 average with two homers and 13 RBI. McConnaughey noted Hill has a “great trait” of letting her teammates know what pitches she saw from an opposing hurler.
Hinds had a.487 average with 16 RBI. Hill can swing on both sides of the plate as a slapper or hit for power. Euler is batting .588, along with a 1.94 earned-run average in the circle. Euler hits third. Euler has a solid arsenal and throws in the mid-50s with a strong changeup.
“A great senior leader,” McConnaughey said.
The No. 4 hitter, Engemann has been terrific with .719 average with 23 hits, two homers and 19 RBI. She opened 5-0 with a 0.27 earned-run average and 54 strikeouts. She plays for the well-known DeMarini Aces and has travelled to Iowa State, Arkansas and Western Illinois, among others. In basketball, Engemann earned second team all-league.
“A top-end pitcher, but also massive with the bat,” McConnaughey said.
Engemann is close with Washburn Rural’s Emmerson Cope and Wamego’s Ashten Pierson. Cope has led Washburn Rural to an 11-1 mark; WR is the only squad to beat Topeka High in the last two seasons. Pierson has helped Wamego win state softball, state golf, final four in state basketball and open 12-0 this spring.
Freshman pitcher/utility Emerson Weber has a .577 average and bats fifth, while Moore, Winder and junior pitcher/outfielder Cayley Grable are at .500. Emma McConnaughey has a .308 average. Moore has shown impressive power.
“The girls aren’t dropping their heads,” he said.
That started with a 10-4 season-opening win against Hiawatha. Troy had some defensive errors and trailed 4-0 before a comeback.
“There wasn’t that sense of panic,” coach McConnaughey said. “…First game jitters. We had a lot of real lofty goals this season, and I think that kind of got in our way right out of the gate. Once they started playing the game and getting back in the flow of stuff, it came back to them.”
The mentality continued with 9-0 and 14-2 doubleheader victories against Valley Falls on April 18. Troy couldn’t score in the first three innings against VF, which made multiple defensive plays.
“We just kept after it, and kept hitting and kept hitting and kept hitting, and started to find the gaps,” McConnaughey said. “Girls are very smart.”