Dave Kearns played on Hamilton's state champion football team in 1997, so he knows what it takes to attain elite status on the prep level.

That feeling of accomplishment has never left his system. Listening to the first-year head coach talk to his Hamilton softball team after Tuesday's 13-4 win at Loyola Sacred Heart, you learn fast this year's State A tournament in Sidney is a high priority.

"The sky is the limit," he said of his Broncs, who boast a 10-4 record. "Whatever they put their mind to, if they come together as one, they can do whatever they want to do."

Hamilton certainly seems to have the bats to improve on last year's 1-2 record at state. The Broncs roughed up Loyola's pitching for 12 hits Tuesday.

No one hit was more entertaining than Mallory McGill's quasi round-tripper in the sixth inning. It actually started out as more of a base hit, then turned bad for Loyola when its right fielder misplayed the ball, allowing it to roll all the way to the fence. McGill kept running and, after looking like maybe she pushed it too far when she was caught between third and home, Loyola made a throwing error that allowed McGill to scoot home.

"It's definitely fun when you have to read the ball, keep on going, keep running and you find yourself at home," said the all-state junior with a smile.

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Kearns has been with the Hamilton program for eight years, but not until this spring has he filled the role of team CEO. Early on he assured his troops that he's the same person.

"There's a little bit more pressure just because you have to make sure everybody is where they need to be," he conceded. "But it's been an easy transition. The girls are loving it. I'm loving it. I'm just happy for them that they have a familiar face leading them."

One key to success for the Broncs is they never lose sight of the fact softball is supposed to be fun.

"We laugh a lot, which makes playing fun," McGill said. "With Dave (Kearns) it keeps us happy and playing the game gives us joy, not just the joy of winning.

"We love him. He brings us together really tight knit. He also knows when to be serious."

Not every day has been sunshine and roses for the 2017 Broncs. They went 1-3 less than two weeks ago in the Frenchtown Invitational.

The losing wasn't exactly fun, but there was value in the experience. The kind that could come in handy in Sidney.

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"We played four games back-to-back," Kearns noted. "I wanted my girls going as hard as they can go.

"Every single one of those games we played was the first game of the tournament for our opponent. We were playing dead tired. I just wanted to get us in shape for state -- it's hot and dry over there (in Sidney in late May) usually. It was a tough schedule we got but we found out about ourselves."

State success isn't the only goal on the Broncs' mind. They have yet to lose in Southwest A action and would like nothing more than to ride the momentum of a league title to state.

Kearns likes the way his girls are playing relaxed. He says he sleeps well knowing the caliber of players he has heading into the most important part of the season.

McGill makes no bones about Hamilton's ultimate goal.

"Go farther than we did last year at state," she said. "We'll play hard and hope for the best."

Notes: Hamilton pounded out a total of six extra-base hits against Class B-C Loyola. But the afternoon wasn't all bad for Breakers pitcher Kayla Hickethier. She recorded 11 strikeouts. Loyola fell to 9-8 overall. 

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