Webster defines drama as a state, situation, or series of events involving interesting or intense conflict of forces. And that is precisely how Great Bend defined their Region 1 championship game against Maize South Thursday night.
Entering the top of the seventh up 2-0, senior pitcher Hunter Middleton fanned the Mavs leadoff hitter heading to the bottom of the order. A fielding error, a throwing error and a dropped pop up ensued leading to a run scored with the tying and go ahead runs at second and third and an extra runner at first. A fly ball off the bat of Maize South’s Alexa Bette was snagged by right fielder Kacee Kasselman. Kasselman went long on a straight throw to catcher Dakota Sanders who put the tag on Braedyn Rollins on a force at the plate to complete the double play giving Great Bend a heart-stopping 2-1 victory and the regional championship.
The Panthers made quick work of Emporia in the first game of Thursday’s regional in a 13-3 win. That game ended in the sixth inning by virtue of the mercy rule.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said coach Carrie Minton. “It’s nice to get the proverbial monkey off our backs. We’ve been here five years in a row in this exact scenario. The girls stepped into a pressure situation at the end today. They played hard for six innings and when it came down to the bottom line they did what they had to do.”
Minton added that the Panthers have a good chance entering next week’s state tournament as a top five seed. “If everything pans out seeding wise, we’ll probably be going in as a three or four seed,” she said.
Four-time defending state champion Wichita Bishop Carroll won its regional Wednesday night in a 2-1 victory over Andover to improve to 22-0. Wichita Carroll has captured 12 state softball championships. Topeka Seaman improved to 22-0 following a 10-0 shutout against Topeka West Thursday. First-round pairings May 28 are Wichita Carroll vs. St. Thomas Aquinas (16-6) at 5 p.m.; Goddard (19-2) vs. Shawnee Heights (19-3) at 7 p.m.; Topeka Seaman (22-0) vs. Valley Center (14-5) at 5 p.m; and Great Bend (20-2) vs. Blue Valley West (17-5) at 7 p.m.
Middelton pitched the complete game victory over Maize South and worked out of a few jams in the process striking out nine opposing batters. Despite five errors committed in the win, the Panthers managed to take the Mavs in order in three out of seven innings played.
Kasselman scored both of Great Bend’s runs in the second and fourth off a singles by Hannah Honomichl and Carly Dreiling. The Mavs’ Kristin Yokum provided the only run for Maize South in the seventh on an infield throwing error.
In game one against Emporia, Middleton worked the first three innings striking out seven batters as the Spartans suffered three consecutive innings without a base runner. Hunter Marcum then came on in the fourth and took up where Middelton left off fanning leadoff batter Brooke Call before relying on the infield to cover a lineout and a pop up.
Dakota Sanders scored the initial run off a single by Morgan Kottas in the opening inning. Honomichl, Hannah Mauler and Lakin Funk then scored in the ensuing inning off a sac fly by Brittnee Barber and another single by Kottas to give the home team a 5-0 advantage. The Panthers saddled another three-run frame in the bottom of the fourth as Sanders, Unruh and Kasselman scored off a hit and a ground out.
Marcum battled her way through a tough top of the fifth with a three-run yield which cut the Spartans’ deficit down to four trailing 7-3. An RBI double by Kasselman in the Panther half of the fifth brought Sanders, Unruh and Marcum across giving the home team a comfortable 10-3 favor. Emporia went two deep into their bullpen and a series of wild pitches in the sixth led to Sanders, Kottas and Marcum crossing the plate ending the game on the mercy rule.
Middleton goes to state posting a 160 season strikeout mark.
The Panthers enter next week’s state tournament with a record of 20-2.
The 2015 Class 5A state tournament is scheduled Thursday and Friday May 28 and 29 at Wichita-Two Rivers Youth Complex at 1700 North Ridge Road.