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Centennial vs. Norris, prep softball, 8/22/17

Norris' Molly Vander Hamm delivers a hit in a 2017 contest.

Taylor Biehl says it was one of the longest days she has been a part of as a softball coach.

On Saturday, her Fairbury team played three down-to-the-wire games, one after another. The Jeffs were down 11-3 in the middle contest.

But Fairbury rallied for a 14-12 win, and the Jeffs carried that momentum into the next contest, which resulted in a one-run win against Northwest and a Fairbury Invitational championship.

In a matter of hours, Fairbury, ranked No. 1 in Class C, experienced the mental and physical grinds — some ups and a few downs — that come with weekend softball tournaments, where teams are playing three games in six or seven hours.

"Coming out of there, we were all just kind of like, 'Wow, how did we do that?'" Biehl said. "We had some really intense games."

So, yeah, a long day. But those long days can be rewarding, too. Win a tournament, especially a competitive one, and you might just have a season turning point.

"I think it just does wonders for your confidence," Norris coach Dave Carpenter said.

His Titans, ranked fifth in Class B, have been playing very well since winning their pool at the LPS Classic on Aug. 31. Norris has won six straight.

"I think for us, that was about the time we started playing well as far as complete games go," Carpenter said.

Regular-season tournaments can give teams a taste of what state could be like. The Fairbury Invitational, for example, featured five rated teams. The Hastings Invitational on Sept. 21 can feel like a mini Class B state tournament at times.

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Papillion-La Vista, ranked No. 1 in Class A, has won three competitive tournaments — the Bellevue East tournament and the Omaha Marian and Papillion-La Vista South invites. All three tournaments showcased multiple ranked teams. Papio beat Class B No. 1 Omaha Skutt 4-0 in the Papio South final Saturday.

"In the long run, the better competition you play it should help you to prepare for the state tournament," Papio coach Todd Petersen said. "You got to be a little careful about it. I think playing more tournaments earlier, I like that better."

The Metro Conference Tournament, the biggest tournament in the state based on the number of teams, is set to start this week. There is pride and momentum for the winner, but Petersen is quick to point out that winning Metro isn't a sign of things to come. He's had teams win Metro and not state and vice versa.

"It's kind of a fun tournament to win because our conference is big," Petersen said. "It's the second-biggest thing to win, but it's a ways away from the first one (winning state)."

The Metro Tournament is spread out over multiple days.

How do teams handle the pace and grind of a one-day tournament featuring eight teams?

For starters, a passion for the game can go a long way, Biehl said.

"I got a group of girls that absolutely love the game of softball," she said. "They're in it and want to be there all day."

Knowing the end goal helps, too. Playing in multiple tournaments — and competitive tournaments — gives players and coaches an idea of what expect when October rolls around.

"The kids are a lot of times, they are just drained (after daylong tournaments)," Carpenter said. "We try to tell the girls, 'Hey, this is what it's going to be like in districts.'"

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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