NASHVILLE — The path to repeating as Class 2A state softball champions will be a hard, uphill climb for the Nashville Hornettes.
Just getting out of the Pinckneyville Regional will be no easy task since the Hornettes will have to play either the host Pinckneyville Panthers, who have beaten them twice, or the Du Quoin Indians, who they edged 3-2 twice, in the title game.
All three schools play in the Mississippi Division of the River-to-River Conference.
"Fortunately, we got the No. 1 seed and Du Quoin and Pinckneyville have to play each other in the other semifinal," Nashville coach Dempsey Witte said. "Pinckneyville swept us for two of our four losses and both of our games with Du Quoin were close. Kiley Pelker hit a walk-off homer to beat them 3-2 at our place, and then at their place we went nine innings before we beat them after going to international tie-breaker.
"It's quality competition. I know Benton is playing real well right now. It's kind of unfortunate that everybody is placed in there, but that's the way it is."
The Hornettes will play either the fourth-seeded Benton Rangerettes (17-11) or the fifth-seeded Waltonville Spartans (10-12) in a semifinal on Tuesday.
Nashville ended the regular season with a 31-4 record. It beat O'Fallon 3-0 and Columbia 1-0 this week.
The Hornettes' closing stretch also included games against O'Fallon and Columbia last year.
"I just feel like the O'Fallon game and the Columbia game at the end of the year last year really got us rolling going into the postseason," Witte said.
With all their starters returning from last season, the Hornettes came into this season with high expectations.
"I think the girls have done a good job of adjusting to that," Witte said. "We know we are going to face tough competition every game in the postseason, and I think our schedule has prepared us for that. We play a pretty strong schedule.
"Hopefully, the girls are as prepared as they can be. I know the girls are looking forward to the challenge."
Macy Ingram, who pitched the Hornettes to the championship last year as a freshman, has another year of experience under her belt.
"Macy gives us a great effort," Witte said. "I think with her and the whole team, we're hoping the experience from last year can get though certain situations in postseason games. They have been through a lot of great games in the postseason.
"Hopefully, some of that experience pays off, and if we do fall behind, we keep our composure and make adjustments and just battle through it."
The Hornettes also have the one of the most feared hitters in the south in senior Shaye Harre.
"I think she has hit 12 home runs now," Witte said. "Her first three at-bats she hit home runs this year. She got off to a great start. Sometimes she gets pitches to hit, and sometimes people walk her. I know Pinckneyville walked her five times in one game, and Du Quoin has walked her every time.
"We feel like with Pelker and (Nicole) Deering in front of her, we've had people on base for her, and Briah Winchester is doing a great job now that she's back healthy batting behind Shaye and protecting her. We feel we have pretty good people in front and behind her. We're pretty comfortable with our lineup right now."
If both squads can make it there, a marquee matchup between Nashville and unbeaten Massac County (28-0-1) looms in the championship of the Du Quoin Sectional.
Massac County beat Nashville 3-0 on May 2.
"Uh boy, that's a dangerous team down there," Witte said of the Patriots. "They're pretty solid and they are going to be in that sectional."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.