EL DORADO— Heading into the post-season the Barton Community College softball team had put together a very good season. The team had achieved several accomplishments it hadn’t seen for nearly 10 years.
Over the weekend in El Dorado that very good season became a special season.
It all came together for the Cougars as they rolled through the Region VI Championships with three straight wins to capture the school’s first region title since 1993. Barton never trailed the entire weekend on the way to the title. The title for Barton ends Butler’s string of four straight Region VI championships.
Barton will take its 35-18 record to the District E Championship in Scottsbluff, Neb this week to do battle with Western Nebraska for the right to play in the NJCAA Championships. Play begins Wednesday.
“Everything came together at the perfect time,” assistant coach Anna Voss said. “We used every single player in the lineup at some point and had just one error the entire weekend.
“As a former Cougar player, I could not be more proud of our girls. Very few of them were born or even thought of the last time Barton softball won the Region VI tournament.”
The Cougars, the No. 4 seed, held off the top seed and four-time defending champion to start play Saturday afternoon, beating host Butler, 5-4. That evening Barton won a battle with No. 3 seed Garden City in the winner’s bracket final, 3-1, to advance to the championship game.
In that title game of the double-elimination event, the Cougars rolled to a 6-0 win over Garden again as Erica Harper left little doubt who the best player in the region was.
Harper belted a pair of home runs – including a grand slam – to provide a bulk of the Cougars’ offense.
Barton had some cushion in the title game knowing, if they lost, there would be another game.
But Harper and her teammates would have none of that.
The sophomore from Topeka put Barton in the lead in the top of the first with a 2-out solo home run – her 23rd of the season.
In the third inning she struck again. Caitlin Garcia led off with a single. Bailey Hensley was hit by pitch and Brianna Ward followed with a single to load the bases for the Cougar standout. She didn’t let her team down.
Harper hit her second home run of the game – a shot to center field – to push her school record total to 24 and put Barton in control with a 5-0 lead.
From there Taylor Bugner rolled through the Broncbuster lineup. The freshman pitcher from Garden Plain High School limited Garden City to just five hits and did not allow a walk. Only once did Garden City get two base runners on as Bugner improved to 14-9.
Barton added a run in the top of the seven when Kylie Everill doubled in Harper, who had walked. And following a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh by Bugner the celebration was on for the Cougars.
Barton escaped a battle with host Butler to start the tournament with a 5-4 win. Once again it was Harper who set the tone. She clubbed a solo homer to center in the first inning to give Barton the lead.
After Butler tied it in the bottom of the third, it was Everill who gave the Cougars the go ahead with a home run to center field the next inning.
Barton built that lead to 5-1 in the sixth. Harper made it 3-1 with a single to score Hensley. Jenna Hosey followed three batters later with a single to score Ward and Harper and gave Barton a 4-run cushion.
After Butler made it 5-2 in the sixth the Jayhawk West regular season champion made things interesting in the bottom of the seventh.
Aujanae McCoy belted a 2-run homer to make it 5-4 but the rally would come up one run short as Bugner went the distance to pick up the win.
That moved the Cougars to the winner’s bracket final against Garden City, an upset winner over No. 2 seed Seward County in the first round.
Holly Posegate was superb in the circle, allowing just four hits and a pair of walks in limiting Garden City to a single run.
And, as was the case the entire weekend, a home run in the top of the first staked Barton to a lead. This time it was off the bat of Ward. Garden tied the game in the second inning.
Posegate helped herself and gave Barton the lead back in the top of the fourth with another home run. Hosey followed with a single and McKenna Mauler doubled her in for a 3-1 lead. That was all Posegate needed as she mowed down Broncbuster after Broncbuster to move Barton into the title game.
“Erica had a huge weekend coming up big for us in both the first round game against Butler and the final against Garden,” Voss said. “Jenna Hosey stepped up big for us as well having a great weekend at the plate.
“Taylor Bugner kept our defense in check while on the mound for us against both Butler and Garden and Holly Posegate threw very well in her game. Everyone stepped up for us.”
With her 3-HR, 7-RBI weekend Harper is now tied for the NJCAA lead in both categories. She is tied for the home run lead with Shea Ibrahim of the College of Southern Idaho at 24. Her 92 RBI puts her even with Jessica Ball from the Cougars’ next foe, Western Nebraska.
The series at Western Nebraska will be a battle of Cougars. The teams will play a twinbill Wednesday and, if needed, a single game Thursday for the right to advance to the NJCAA Championships.
Western Nebraska will bring a 53-12 record to the series after rolling to the Region IX title. WN is currently riding a 15-game winning streak. The NJCAA Championships will be held in St. George, Utah.