All seven of Nebraska's incoming freshmen softball players concluded their high school careers with a trip to the state playoffs, with three players winning state titles and a fourth earning a runner-up finish. Overall, five of the Huskers' seven freshmen appeared in at least one state championship game during their prep careers.
Highlighting the group of 2012 state champions was Emily Lockman, who led Norco High School - the nation's No. 1 team - to the prestigious California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section Division I title. Lockman was dominant in the circle while winning her second championship in four playoff appearances. She threw every inning of the playoffs this season, tossing three shutouts in her five starts, including one-, two- and three-hit shutouts. Lockman surrendered only four earned runs in Norco's five-game run to the title. The three playoff shutouts increased her season total to 21, a new school record. That is an impressive record considering Norco's ace before Lockman was Teagan Gerhart, a senior at Stanford who is a three-time all-conference selection in arguably the nation's best softball conference. Lockman, who also produced RBI hits in each of Norco's final three playoff wins, finished her senior season with a sparkling 31-2 record. She was an all-state selection as a junior and earned All-CIF Southern Section honors as both a sophomore and junior.
While Lockman pitched her team to a second title in California, Sammi Noland helped lead Canyon del Oro High School to its third Arizona Class 4A state title in the past four years. Noland broke a 4-4 tie in the fourth inning of this season's championship game with a grand slam. Noland's grand slam helped the Dorados win their second straight state title. As a junior, Noland hit a two-run homer in the state championship game in support of Husker sophomore Mattie Fowler, who earned the win in the circle. Canyon del Oro also won the state championship in Noland's freshman season, while the squad advanced to the semifinals in her sophomore campaign. Noland played a key role in ending her career as a back-to-back state champion, as she was an honorable-mention all-state selection as a junior. Honors from her senior season are still to come.
Rounding out the group of 2012 state champions was Kiki Stokes, who led powerhouse Olathe East High School to its seventh Kansas Class 6A state title in the past 15 seasons, but the first since 2007. Stokes drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first inning of the state championship game to ignite a three-run inning that would give Olathe East all the runs it would need in a 5-2 victory over Olathe South. The win not only gave Stokes a state title, but it avenged the only blemish on East's season record, as the Lady Hawks finished 24-1. Stokes won a title in her third and final appearance in the state tournament. Previously, Stokes and Olathe East finished third in the 2009 state tournament and fourth in 2011. With honors from her senior season still to come, Stokes is already a two-time NFCA High School All-American, earning first-team honors as a junior in 2011 and second-team accolades as a sophomore in 2010.
Earning a runner-up finish at the Nebraska Class B state tournament last fall was Beatrice's Alicia Armstrong. Armstrong batted an impressive .690 as a senior, breaking the record for the highest single-season batting average in state history by a whopping .095. Overall, the Lady Orange qualified for the state tournament in each of Armstrong's four seasons, including a semifinal appearance in her junior season in 2010. Armstrong was an all-state selection in each of her four seasons, including being named honorary captain of the Super State team as a senior. She set Nebraska Class B career records for batting average (.514), runs scored (153) and home runs (20).
Hailey Decker saw her senior season come to an end earlier than expected last month, as McNary High School was upset in the second round of the Oregon Class 6A state tournament. The Celtics qualified for the state playoffs in Oregon's largest classification in each of Decker's four seasons. A three-time all-state selection with honors still to come from her senior season, McNary advanced to the semifinals of the state tournament in Decker's sophomore season. The Celtics also made it to the second round of the playoffs in her freshman, junior and senior seasons. Decker was the Oregon Offensive Player of the Year as a junior.
Dawna Tyson had a pair of hits in her final game, recording the only two hits of the game for Corona High School in a first-round loss at the 2012 CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs, the third time in her career that the Panthers qualified for the tournament. Tyson also played a lead role in leading Corona to a runner-up finish in the 2010 playoffs. That season, Tyson led the team in batting average and RBIs, while serving as team captain. Tyson earned All-CIF Southern Section second-team honors that season, before earning first-team accolades as a junior in 2011. Honors from her senior season are still to come.
Rounding out the group of freshmen who experienced success in the state playoffs was Danica Bishop. Bishop made the only playoff appearance of her career by pitching Woodbridge High School in Irvine, Calif., to its first trip to the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs in several years. Bishop also led the Warriors to a first-round playoff victory, tossing a complete game in a win over Aliso Niguel. Bishop won 11 games in her senior season, while holding opponents to a .289 on-base percentage. In addition to ending her high school career on a high note, Bishop also won the 2010 Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship with the So Cal Athletics club team.