The top three seeds at the 1A Eastland Regional could very well be different rungs on a ladder – even if they aren't currently ordered from top to bottom in terms of overall softball success.
The Milledgeville Missiles - the No. 3 seed – are the defending state champions. Over the last decade, the program – which once was a co-op with Polo – has been one of the best in the Sauk Valley. The state championship was the culmination of that ascension.
Despite that and another NUIC East title, the Missiles are the No. 3 seed, forcing them to prove that they are still the power from the last few years.
The Amboy Cilppers – the No. 1 seed – were once an afterthought in the spring. That hasn't been the case the last few years. Amboy has won three straight regional titles.
However – the last 2 years, the Missiles have ousted the Clippers in the sectional round. It's about time in the Clippers' minds that they move up a rung.
The second seed appears to be the upstart - the Newman Comets. Only three of the 12 players on the roster are seniors, and for the first time in program history, the Comets fielded a sophomore team.
At 13-11 and with a regular-season win over the Missiles, Newman hopes this regional can be a springboard to better things in years to come.
"We talked about that after Saturday's game (a 4-3 loss to Bureau Valley)," Newman coach J.D. Waldschmidt said. "We have two teams for the first time. We lose only three players. Win or lose, we want this regional to inspire the program for the future."
The Comets beat Milledgeville 11-5 in extra innings on a windy day on April 16. If the Missiles beat AFC today, they will play Newman Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in Lanark.
The game was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but it was moved to Tuesday because of Newman's graduation.
Amboy will play either Eastland or Fulton on Wednesday.
The victory over the Missiles was sweet, and it happened without the Comets having to pitch their ace Lakyn Waldschmidt.
Samantha Miller pitched the entire game for the Comets.
"That was sort of perfect storm of events," J.D. Waldschmidt said. "We had six games scheduled that week, so we wanted to give Lakyn a break somewhere in there, and before the season, Sam had approached me about pitching against Milledgeville (19-6), since she had grown up there.
"So while the regional was in the back of our mind back then, now we hope it might be a small advantage that they haven't seen Lakyn."
If the Comets find a way to derail the Missiles, they will likely play Amboy for the third time this season in the championship game.
The first loss came on walk-off home run by Destinee Oenes in Amboy.
The second one the Clippers handled the Comets on Newman's senior night game.
"We'd really like to get a third crack at them," Waldschmidt said. "The first game was a well-played, low-scoring game that they won at the very end.
"The second time we played one of our worst defensive games of the year, and they handled us. We know we can do better than that."