By Jim Misunas
HOISINGTON — Larned softball coach Sandy Lucas missed part of the season with her fight against lung cancer, but inspired her team with her spirit and heart.
Sandy Lucas’ return to the sidelines weeks after surgery was remarkable. When underdog nearly upset state-ranked Pratt Tuesday, the Indians almost achieved a miraculous finish in a 1-0 regional loss.
Coach Lucas believed in her team.
“I knew we’d score and find a way to win,” she said.
Sandy’s daughter, Emily Lucas, followed her mother’s fighting example by matching Pratt’s ace Britnee Hill in a scoreless shutout for seven innings. Lucas pitched fearlessly with runners on base, stranding 10 Pratt baserunners with clutch pitching.
Emily worked an effective rise ball and mixed in some changeups and induced batters to chase pitches. She threw her best in the biggest game of the season.
“I knew if Emily has right, Pratt would have a tough hitting her because she was getting a lot of movement on her pitches,” coach Lucas said. “Pratt was shocked when they could not get runs off Emily. Our defense stepped up behind her.”
Larned’s hitters were equally challenged by Pratt’s lefthander Hill, who struck out 11 batters in eight innings. The regional championship went scoreless for seven innings.
“Britnee was the best pitcher we’ve seen,” coach Lucas said. “We had not seen a pitcher with that speed with a changeup and a rise ball.”
Former Pratt Community College softball coach Ron Hill got what he’d hoped for — a pitcher’s duel — since he coaches both pitchers.
Larned’s Makenzie Harper reached third base in the top of the seventh inning, but Hill retired Sadi Sheperd on a hard-hit ball to shortstop.
Pratt finally broke through in the eighth inning. Destani Garten singled home Kelsey Smith-Potter with two out after Brooke Theis’ infield hit off Lucas.
Coach Lucas gets emotional when she remembers telling her team she was sick and might not return after spring break. She had received a diagnosis of lung cancer that required surgery.
Outside of her daughter and catcher Alexis Langdon, no one knew how sick coach Lucas was.
“Everyone was pretty shocked when they heard the news,” coach Lucas said. “It was pretty quiet. I had to stay home and get healthy.”
Coach Lucas missed a doubleheader and watched two more doubleheaders without coaching. The girls made sure their coach knew they were thinking about her.
There was a sign on the fence signifying cancer awareness. The girls wore hair bows to honor their coach. Lucas credits assistant coaches Shelli Sanders and Jacob Tapia for keeping the team on an even keel.
When coach Lucas returned, some younger players started contributing. Team chemistry had changed.
“A couple of younger players started pushing everyone else to perform,” she said. “I pushed them hard and I could tell the girls were responding to get better.”
When the girls started to complain about the heat, coach Lucas suggested a water balloon fight.
“It helped them when they realized I was going to be OK,” she said.
Sandy said it was toughest on her daughter, who receved support from Larned High teachers. Emily is headed to Pratt Community College to join Pratt’s Lauren Rambat on the softball team.
Emily earned Pratt’s Presidential Above and Beyond Scholarship, which pays tuition and books and $500 per semester. Lucas must maintain a 3.5 grade point average and complete 50 hours of community service each semester.
Emily was named on the Hutchinson News’ First Hour Honor Team for Leadership/Community Service.
Larned High teacher Janet Fleske wrote Emily’s nomination.
“Emily doesn’t always seek out leadership opportunities — they often seek her out,” Fleske wrote. “She simply gets the job done. She gives of herself unselfishly and has made Larned High School a better place.”
Emily was part of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes leadership team that riase funds to dig an African water well, construct water wells in Malawi and help a typhoon-stricken family in the Philippines.
Sandy and her daughter taught jump rope tricks to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a jump rope team which raised awareness about healthy exercise and the American Heart Association.