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Gehlen Catholic coach Tony Gunter had faith his team might be one to be reckoned with this season.

The Jays were coming off a 12-16 campaign and had to replace their No. 1 pitcher, Brooke Woerdehoff.

Still, Gehlen returned its top-three hitters — Sydney Livermore, Addison Weber and Anna Britt — and Gunter liked what he saw out of Rylee Schnepf, who pitched 73 innings as an eighth-grader, in offseason sessions.

The main thing he was concerned about was what region Gehlen Catholic would end up in if the Jays didn't earn a spot in the rankings during the season.

The Jays, who 21-9 overall as they head to Fort Dodge for the state tournament on Monday, were placed in one of the toughest regions in the state. Akron-Westfield was on Gehlen Catholic's side of the bracket and Westwood and South O'Brien were on the other side. All three teams were ranked.

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Westwood vs Gehlen Catholic regional softball
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Westwood vs Gehlen Catholic regional softball
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Westwood vs Gehlen Catholic regional softball
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Westwood vs Gehlen Catholic regional softball
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Westwood vs Gehlen Catholic regional softball

Gehlen Catholic also had to face a 16-win MMCRU team in the 1A quarterfinals. The Jays won 2-1 and the prize was Akron-Westfield, who had made 16 straight regional finals.

The Jays stunned the Westerners 9-5 and then won a pitching duel with Westwood, 2-1, to earn a trip to the 1A state tournament for the second time in the program's history.

Gehlen Catholic hopes to continue the string of upsets when the Jays face Collins-Maxwell, the top-seeded team in 1A, at 11 a.m. on Monday. Collins-Maxwell is 25-1 on the season.

Gunter's message to his team is clear as the eighth-seeded Jays travel to Harlan Rogers Sports Complex for Monday's game.

"Really, I want the girls to have some fun and enjoy the experience because we weren't sure we were going to make it because we had a tough road," Gunter said. "We have to be relaxed and have good plate discipline and hopefully have fun, put the ball in play and see what happens.

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"We are more focused on more of what we can do. We have a pitcher that can limit the amount of runs and maybe something great can happen for us and maybe we can provide the tournament with a great upset."

Collins-Maxwell pitcher Mikayla Houge has struck out 268 batters in 137 innings and has a 0.26 ERA. Offensively, Collins-Maxwell is batting .357. Alexis Houge leads the team with a .589 average and Mikayla House is batting .492.

Gehlen Catholic has a talented pitcher in their own right. A year after striking out 54 in 73 innings to go along with a 3.74 ERA, Schnepf has taken over the top pitching spot for the Jays.

Going into the game against Collins-Maxwell, Schnepf has 198 strikeouts in 160 1/3 innings and has a 2.05 ERA. She's held opponents' to a .149 batting average.

"Rylee limits how many balls are in play with the strikeouts and some of the contact leads to weak ground balls and popups," Gunter said. "Working with Rylee in the offseason and seeing her development, she wasn't going to be as erratic and that gave me confidence. We don't have to score 10 runs to win a game now. With Rylee on the mound, it's made a difference."

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West Sioux vs West Lyon regional softball
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West Sioux vs West Lyon regional softball
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West Sioux vs West Lyon regional softball
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West Sioux vs West Lyon regional softball
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West Sioux vs West Lyon regional softball

Gehlen is batting .286 as a team, down from the .311 the Jays hit last season, but have scored 15 more runs (188 to 173) this season. Britt, a senior, leads the team with a .435 average with 35 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. Livermore is batting .333 with a team-high 26 RBIs and Weber has driven in 23 runs. Sophomore Tiffany Woerdehoff is batting .316 and freshman Alyssa Kolbeck is batting .367.

Britt is one of four seniors on the team with Katie Peters, who has 24 RBIs, Elliotte Herbst and Meredith Kellen.

"Anna and Katie have been amazing and Katie has been a backstop at first. Anna plays an amazing centerfield," Gunter said. "We just tell her to slap that ball up the middle and when she is doing that, it's fun to watch. She's the one player on the team that's been consistent all season."

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