By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Northeast Missouri was well-represented at the Missouri high school softball state tournaments last fall.
The Clarence Cannon Conference had three teams — Brookfield and Palmyra in Class 2 and Centralia in Class 3. Knox County represented the Tri-Rivers Conference in the Class 1 state tournament.
Although Knox County is less than an hour from Palmyra, those teams' players didn't know much about each other. They haven't met in the regular season since 2007.
"It was kind of weird," Knox County catcher Bailey Couch said. "We played a lot of the same teams and we would see and hear stuff about Palmyra, and I'm sure it was the same way with them. But we didn't really know much about each other even though we are pretty close to each other."
That has changed for a few of the players this week.
Couch and Knox County teammates Devin Gudehus and Mackenzie Hustead are playing in the 10th Annual Illinois vs. Missouri Senior Softball on Sunday. Three of their 13 teammates will be Palmyra prouducts Brianne Caldwell, Liz Stansberry and Alexis Van Nostrand.
The doubleheader will start at 5 p.m. at Harry Phillips Field in Quincy.
Van Nostrand remembers when her older sister, Jessica, played against Knox County.
"They were always good," Van Nostrand said. "They were good games. We had a lot of familiarity at state with Brookfield and Centralia but not as much with Knox County."
Despite standout seasons, both Couch and Van Nostrand wished for better finishes. Both teams placed fourth at state.
"That was pretty tough to swallow," said Couch, who along with Gudehus will play at John Wood Community College next year. "We had a great regular season and we have a lot to remember. We did a lot that past Knox County teams weren't able to do."
Van Nostrand's state tournament appearance was the third of her career following a runner-up finish in 2010 and a state championship in 2011.
"It was great. It was a lot of fun," said Van Nostrand, the Herald-Whig Player of the Year who will play softball at Truman State. "My sister won three state championships. She's always telling me ‘Yeah, we both made it to state three times, but I won three state titles.' I'll give her that. But it's great to represent Northeast Missouri the way we did. There are a lot of good players and a lot of good teams in this area and to be one of the top ones is saying something."
Adam Rung has enjoyed assembling a talented Missouri roster. He was chosen to guide Missouri after stepping down as Clark County's softball coach to devote more time to his duties as boys basketball and golf coach.
"Northeast Missouri's strength in softball last season shows in the kids we have on this roster," said Rung, who coached the Lady Indians to a Class 2 district title game before falling to Palmyra. "It's an athletic team and it's a team that has a lot of speed and can hit the ball very well. I wouldn't want to have to face this team if I was on the other side of the field."
Missouri has a 10-8 advantage in the Salute, which Rung hopes to add to.
"It's always a close game," Rung said. "Illinois is coming off its season and even though Missouri has been off for a while, everyone has been playing and getting ready for this. Everyone always looks forward to this game and goes into it with an open mind. This year is like all the rest. A break here, a break there and anything can happen."