Estherville Lincoln Central's road to a state softball title won't be easy, but then it never is.
The fifth-ranked Midgets (27-6) open tournament play Monday at 7:30 p.m. against seventh-ranked East Marshall (30-5) at Diamond 2 of Harlan Rodgers Field in Fort Dodge.
Should ELC get through the first round, the next likely opponent is top-ranked Solon (35-6). Solon opens the tournament against unranked Waukon (14-17).
In other Class 3A first-round matches, third-ranked Bondurant-Farrar (35-7) faces unranked Davenport Assumption (23-20) and fourth-ranked Mid-Prairie (27-11) takes on No. 9 Ballard (29-9).
After placing fifth a year ago, ELC's key goal is to win get that key first win. The Midgets lost their tournament opener a year ago and came back with consecutive wins to place fifth.
ELC coach Megan Anderson said part of the preparation this week has included game simulations.
"We're doing little scrimmages with live pitches thrown and trying to score a runner from second base," she said, as an example. "We're trying to prepare for pressure situations is they should happen.
Looking closer at the Midgets' first opponent, East Marshall is making its first trip to the state tournament since back-to-back trips in 1994-95.
As a team, the Mustangs are one of the top-hitting teams in a state with a .397 average. The team has 83 doubles and 29 home runs with 287 RBIs.
"They're a pretty solid team," said Anderson. "They have some solid hitters that we may have to pitch around."
That compares to ELC, which has a .339 batting average with 51 doubles, 13 home runs and 209 RBIs.
Individually, East Marshall has eight players batting .345 or better led by Alyssa Whitmore (.491), Taylor Fricke (.490), Paige Miller (.431) and Chelsea Whitmore (.400). Karly Long is close behind at .398 however Katie Roseland, who bats .375, leads the team in home runs with 13 and RBIs with 55.
In comparison, ELC features one of the top hitters in the state in junior Emily Kirchner, who is batting .579 along with a team-high six home runs. She has scored a team-high 55 runs from the No. 3 spot in the batting order.
Senior Kendall Bosch is the only other ELC player batting over .400 with a .449 average. She has a team-high 49 RBIs and 10 doubles. The Midgets have three other players batting over .300-freshman Caitlyn Clayton (.342), senior Christina Tendal (.340) and senior Kellie Christensen (.337).
Sophomore Haley Long is the team's leading pitcher with an 18-2 record. In 123 12/3 innings, she has given up 101 hits with a 2.43 earned run average. She has 86 strikeouts to 50 walks. Freshman Mariah Fritz also has sent time on the mound as she has a 10-3 record in 71.23 innings. With a 2.05 ERA she has 60 strikeouts compared to eight walks.
"Our girls are going to have to be patient at the plate," said Anderson.
Meanwhile, ELC will follow its senior pitcher Bosch into the tournament.
Bosch has an 18-6 record and pitched 154 2/3 innings this season. Of the 36 runs allowed, 15 of them have been earned, so defense will be key. Bosch has 189 strikeouts compared to nine walks and has given up 101 hits.
Opponents are batting .168 against her.
A win Monday will have the Midgets playing in the semifinal at 3 p.m. on Thursday, July 19. A loss will send ELC into the consolation bracket with 3A consolation games taking place at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
The 3A championship game is 2:30 p.m. on Friday and the third-place game is at 1:30 p.m. on Friday.