BY JIM MISUNAS
GARDEN CITY – To be the softball champs, you’ve got to beat the champs. The Panthers needed to sweep Garden City to achieve that elusive goal.
Great Bend achieved one-half of that goal by shocking the previously unbeaten Garden City Buffaloes 4-3 to salvage a split of Thursday’s windswept Western Athletic Conference softball doubleheader. The Panthers turned the trick by scoring four seventh-inning runs after trailing 3-0.
Great Bend (10-6, 5-3 WAC) also beat the Buffaloes last year with a similar last-inning rally. Garden City (11-1, 5-1 WAC) still controls the WAC after winning the opener 3-1. But the Panthers’ victory keeps Dodge City (12-2, 2-2 WAC) in contention for the league title.
GREAT BEND 4, GARDEN CITY 3 (G2) – The Panthers’ Cailee McMullen singled and Alyssa Keller doubled to start the seventh inning off Garden City pitcher Yazmin Vargas.
McMullen and Keller scored when third baseman Kelbi Richter misplayed Aleah Urban’s groundball. Urban advanced to third base when Vargas shifted to shortstop and misplayed a groundball by Sydney Unruh.
The speedy Urban scored on Jenna Mauler’s topped groundball to relief pitcher Hailey Dart for a 3-3 tie. Shailey Clark tagged Dart (4-1) for the go-ahead base hit to score Sydney Unruh for the game-winning run.
Reliever Sarah Mehlhaff (4-1) pitched 51/3 shutout innings with seven strikeouts. Mehlhaff preserved a 3-0 deficit by retiring Jasmine Rockwall to strand the bases loaded in the fifth inning.
Garden City scored three second-inning runs. Reagan Nordby singled home Taylor Terpstra. Nordby scored on a bases-loaded walk. Abby Parr scored on a passed ball for a 3-0 lead. Sarah Mehlhaff retired Erykah Foster to strand baserunners at second and third base.
GARDEN CITY 3, GREAT BEND 1 (G1) – Aleah Urban singled home Alyssa Keller for a 1-1 sixth-inning tie off Garden City pitcher Hailey Dart.
But the Buffaloes rallied when Vargas reached on a perfect bunt and Dart walked. Foster singled home Vargas for a 2-1 lead after Terpstra’s sacrifice bunt. Dart scored on two-out error for a 3-1 lead.
Panther pitcher Shanaeia Mehlhaff (6-5) yielded a first-inning run when Foster singled home Dart. Mehlhaff stranded baserunners in scoring position in five consecutive innings with clutch pitching with north winds blowing 20-to-25 mph.
Great Bend 000 000 0 – 1 2 4
Garden City 100 002 x – 3 10 1
Shanaeia Mehlhaff and Urban. Dart and Foster. W—Dart, 4-0. L—Shanaeia Mehlhaff, 6-5.
Great Bend 000 000 4 – 4 6 4
Garden City 030 000 0 – 3 8 3
Shanaeia Mehlhaff, Sarah Mehlhaff (2) and Unruh. Vargas, Dart (7) and Foster. W—Sarah Mehlhaff, 4-1. L—Dart, 4-1. 2B—GB—Keller.