As nine innings clicked by, an instant classic developed into the greatest scoreless showdown in Hoisington softball history.
Hoisington pitcher Kassidy Nixon delivered 15 strikeouts while Beloit pitcher Chloe Odle struck out 17 batters in Wednesday's 3A softball regional semifinal. It was a virtual certainty that the eventual winner would capture the state tournament berth against Russell/Victoria.
The drama extended to the 10th inning at the Barton Community College field.
Cardinal Gracie Aylward achieved a lifetime goal with the game-winning double to left field that scored Mollie Steiner, who doubled. Aylward was swarmed by happy teammates who knew that destiny was on their side. The Cardinals rolled past Russell/Victoria 5-1 in the championship game.
"That was an awesome moment," Aylward said. "That was everything that I would ever imagine — having a teammate on base and having her score and win the game."
The left-handed Aylward calmed herself and focused on the basics. She was prepared to swing at the first pitch.
"It was my perfect pitch," she said. "Their pitcher focused pitching outside to lefties and that's what I got."
The Cardinals left a runner in scoring position four times before the game-winner. Nixon doubled to lead off the second inning. The Cardinals got away from their game plan by wasting at-bats with outs on bunts for a team that rarely gives up outs. Shaylay Kempke bunted into a fourth-inning double play. Keeley Wolf popped out on another bunt attempt.
Hoisington coach Tim Boxberger had never experienced such a tense game that would be decided on one decisive play.
"It was pitch-for-pitch, something I've never been a part of," Boxberger. "Neither pitcher wanted to give in. We got out of our element bunting with hitters who hadn't bunted all year. Beating Beloit was a big step forward after losing to them two years ago."
Cardinal pitcher Nixon performed like a champion with 28 strikeouts to spark the Cardinals past Beloit 1-0 in 10 innings and 5-1 over Russell/Victoria to capture a 3A state softball berth. Nixon threw one-hitters in both games firing 227 pitches. Nixon painted the inside corner with strikes against Beloit.
"I came out with a good mentality and threw harder than I've thrown before," Nixon said. "I knew I had to do my job and keep the other team down. That's one of the best feelings I've ever had to quality for state in another sport."
CARDINALS 5, RUSSELL/VICTORIA 1 — The Cardinals erased any doubt with single runs in the first two innings. The Cardinals scored three runs in the fourth inning.
Aylward singled and scored a first-inning run on an error. Steiner singled home Kortney Lang after a second-inning single. Ava Henry singled and scored on an error when Steiner's batted ball was thrown away. Steiner stole home on a double steal with Aylward. Aylward scored on Kadence Urban's sacrifice fly for a 5-0 lead.
"Scoring runs in the first two innings really helped us and energized us," Boxberger said. "Going to state is where we wanted to be."
Nixon yielded a fourth-inning single to Kendra Bay. Taylor Powers scored a sixth-inning run on a wild pitch.
"Kassidy is one of the best competitors I've coached," Boxberger said. "Kassidy was awesome today. Kassidy told me 'you're not taking me out.' "
The Cardinals (19-4) qualify for the state tournament May 27-28 at Manhattan.
RUSSELL/VICTORIA 13, ELLSWORTH 0 – Russell/Victoria's Brooklyn Nowak delivered a trio of two-run doubles for six RBIs to power the Broncos past Ellsworth 13-0 in Wednesday's 3A Larned softball semifinal. The Broncos (17-5) advance to Wednesday's championship game at Barton Community College. The Broncos rapped out six extra-base hits.
Beloit 000 000 000 0 — 0 1 0
Hoisington 000 000 000 1 — 1 6 0
Odle and McMillan. Nixon and Urban. W—Nixon, 11-0. L—Odle. 2B—H—Nixon, Kempke, Steiner
Hoisington 110 300 0 — 5 10 1
Russell 000 001 0 — 1 1 3
Bay and Powers. Nixon and Urban. W—Nixon, 12-0. L—Bay.
Ellsworth 000 00 — 0 5 2
Russell/Victoria 332 5x — 13 11 0
Moore, Hipp (2), Moore (4) and Haas. Nowak, Bay (5) and Powers. W—Nowak, 5-1. L—Moore. 2B—RV—Nowak 3, Walton. 3B—RV—Powers. HR—RV—Bay (7)
3A LARNED—Russell/Victoria 17, Larned 0; Ellsworth 10, Sylvan/Lucas/Lincoln 1; Hoisington 15, Rooks County 0; Beloit 7, Hays-TMP 1; Russell-Victoria 13, Ellsworth 0; Hoisington 1, Beloit 0; Hoisington 5, Russell/Victoria 1