The Division I-A double-elimination state tournament kicks off Thursday at Bishop Manogue High School.
Fallon faces Boulder City at 2:30 p.m. followed by Fernley and Pahrump Valley at 4 p.m.
The winners meet Friday at 2:30 p.m., while the loser’s play at 12:30 p.m. The consolation final is at 4;30 p.m. Friday.
The state championship game is at 9 a.m. Saturday at the University of Nevada’s Peccole Park and if a second game is necessary, it will begin about 30 minutes after the first game.
Last year left a foul taste in their mouth but much has changed for the Lady Wave softball team.
After winning last year’s regional title over Fernley in Winnemucca, the two-time defending state champs stumbled at the Division I-A state tournament blowing a six-run lead in the final inning of the championship as the Vaqueros rallied to win the crown.
But this year’s team is different and it showed last weekend at the Northern Division I-A regional tournament in Lake Tahoe.
The Lady Wave rode Rileigh Ricken’s arm in all three games as they defeated Fernley twice, including 4-2 in the title game, and enter the state tournament on a nine-game winning streak.
“We’re peaking at the right time. We’re getting hits in a timely matter,” Fallon coach Bill Archer said.
Top-seeded Fallon takes on No. 2 Boulder City at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday at Bishop Manogue to open the state tournament and its quest for a third title in four years. Fernley, the North’s No. 2 seed, plays No. 1 Pahrump Valley at 4:30 p.m.
The winners square off at 2:30 p.m. on Friday at Bishop Manogue, while the consolation round begins at 12:30 p.m. The consolation final is at 4:30 p.m. Friday, and the championship is Saturday at 9 a.m. at the University of Nevada’s Hixon Park.
While it’s tough to predict what the South is offering this season, Archer said the team can only worry about improving its own game.
“You work on fundamentals, you work on pitching and you work on things you struggle with,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s softball.”
While both Fallon and Fernley didn’t lose much to graduation last season, 2014 figured to be another gritty battle between the cross-valley rivals. Take away the meaningless games against the Division III and replace them with three-game series against I-A opponents and it has made both teams stronger.
“You look at our division up here and it’s pretty strong,” Archer said. “From last year to this year, up in the North you can tell by the scores from the region that it seems more competitive.”
Instead of facing teams outside Dayton and Fernley only once, Fallon encountered another rival, Lowry, midway through the season and the Buckaroos snapped Fallon’s 12-game winning streak. That sent the Lady Wave into a rough one-week patch when they lost to Fernley for the first time this season and then were stifled by Dayton in a road series loss.
“Looking back we learned from those losses. It showed us what we needed to work on,” Archer said.
Pitching has been more consistent during the team’s nine-game winning streak as Fallon has allowed no more than three runs per game. With Ricken and Kayla Buckmaster in the circle, Fallon produced four shutouts going into the regional tournament and the offense hasn’t missed a step, ending four games early with the mercy rule.
“We bonded as a team. We knew what we needed to work on,” Ricken said. “We need to keep the momentum and confidence.”
Also credit Fallon’s ongoing rivalry with Fernley that started with the realignment and Fallon winning the state title in 2011.
“By having Fernley as a rival has made both squads better teams,” Archer said.
With the state tournament around the corner and in Fallon’s backyard, the team has been returning to the same form when it started the year with a 12-game winning streak before losing a doubleheader against Lowry. And while not much is known about Boulder City or Pahrump Valley, Fallon can only worry about its game and trust that its league schedule and regional tournament have prepared it for this week’s clash.
“We know what we have and we don’t know what to expect from the South, but we do know what to expect from the North,” Archer added. “It’s been more competitive in the I-A. It makes things better.”