The Greenwood softball team is trying to make history this week.
The Gators (39-0) are looking to become the first fast-pitch softball team in Kentucky to finish a season undefeated.
Ranked No. 1, Greenwood has to be considered the team to beat at the Rawlings/KHSAA Fast Pitch Softball State Tournament in Owensboro.
Greenwood last lost on June 9, 2012, against Lone Oak in the state tournament. The Gators have won a state-record 39 consecutive games since then, outscoring opponents 336-20.
"I think obviously Greenwood is who everyone will peg as their favorite," said Mercy Coach Josh Bloomer.
Greenwood, which made last year's final four, has plenty of tournament experience. The Gators didn't lose any players from last year's team, and they have nine fourth-year players. Six have been playing varsity since 2009.
"Hopefully we're not all playing for second place and Greenwood for first," said Owensboro Catholic Coach George Randolph, the winningest coach in state history.
But Greenwood isn't the only team to look out for. All four teams that reached last year's semifinals return.
Third-ranked Mercy is the defending champion. The Jaguars return 15 players from a year ago, including co-state tournament MVPs Morgan Meyer and Jordan Vorbrink.
Meyer, a senior outfielder who has not committed an error this season, leads the team in runs (45), hits (62), and stolen bases (16). Vorbrink, a sophomore, is the team leader in RBI (46), home runs (3), and triples (7). She has the third-most hits on the team with 48.
Mercy lost just two players from last year, but also lost head coach Josh Bloomer. New coach Greg Vorbrink, previously at North Bullitt for four years, said his new team's strengths are pitching and defense. But the offense has been strong recently.
"This post-season our bats have gotten a bit hotter," Vorbrink said. Since the playoffs began, Mercy has outscored opponents 57-8. The coach said that the return of junior Hannah Gray has given the team a spark. Mercy faces No. 12 Oldham County in its opening game.
Second-ranked Lone Oak, last year's state tournament runner-up, lost just three players. The Purple Flash have given up the second-fewest runs in the state, behind Greenwood, with 36.
No. 6 Owensboro Catholic, winners of a record five state championships, has made it to the state tournament for the 13th year in a row. Catholic last won the state in 2009. Its opponent, No. 16 Livingston Central, is playing in its first state tournament, but Randolph is not counting them out.
"We know we can't win the second game until we win the first one," Randolph said.
There are other new faces in this year's tournament. After leaving Mercy, Bloomer led Male to the state tournament for the first time in school history. But it was not easy. Male lost to a team with a losing record in the district championship game, but beat the top three teams in the region to earn a spot in the state tournament.
"We finally put some pieces together," Bloomer said of their regional wins.
No. 20 Male faces No. 4 Scott County in the opening round. Male beat Scott County twice in the regular season.
Greenwood starts its quest for perfection with No. 19 South Laurel. While Greenwood is the favorite, Bloomer pointed out anything can happen at the state tournament.
"The best team doesn't always win the tournament," Bloomer said. "It's who's the hottest."
At Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro
(Double elimination; all times EDT)
Thursday's first-round matchups
■ Notre Dame (28-7) vs. Montgomery Co. (22-12)
■ Greenwood (39-0) vs. South Laurel (29-6)
■ Lone Oak (30-3) vs. Central Hardin (34-5-1)
■ Scott Co. (33-4) vs. Male (25-13)
■ Estill Co. (23-15) vs. Boyle Co. (29-8)
■ Oldham Co. (33-5-1) vs. Mercy (33-7)
■ Livingston Central (30-6) vs. Owensboro Catholic (28-9)
■ Magoffin Co. (21-7) vs. Ashland Blazer (25-9)
Leigh Dannhauser: (859) 231-3447