Nine runs in the first inning provided a little foreshadowing for Tuesday’s Western Athletic Conference opener between Class 5A power Great Bend and Liberal. The Lady Panthers needed just six innings to complete two 15-0 wins.
“The biggest thing is that it’s WAC,” said Great Bend Coach Carrie Minton. “The girls want to go after a WAC title and it started today. We know Liberal has had some struggles, but our girls feel like they’re playing for themselves. They’re not worried about who they’re playing. It’s more about going out and competing and showing their best.”
Hunter Middleton proved to have the best stuff on the day. The hard-throwing senior struck out five of the first six Liberal batters. She threw three perfect innings and closed out game one with six strikeouts. She added one more perfect frame and a pair of strikeouts to begin game two.
Fifteen batters came to the plate in the bottom half of the first in game one. Senior Kacee Kasselman singled in senior Dakota Sanders, and sophomore Carly Dreiling drove in two with a single up the middle. Senior Lauren Welsch followed with a triple out of the leadoff spot to drive in Dreiling. Welsch scored on an error for an 8-0 lead.
Liberal sophomore Sarah Bayouth struggled with five walks and two hit batters in the frame. Her final walk of the inning resulted in an RBI for Great Bend senior Hannah Mauler.
Great Bend barely slowed down in the second inning with five more runs. A Sanders out scored Dreiling, then Middleton provided the big hit of the frame with a two-run double.
The Lady Panthers just missed a run-rule after two at-bats. Instead, the teams played into the bottom of the third. The bases were eventually loaded when Sanders cleared the bases to end the game with a shot to the fence in left center.
Great Bend walked 10 times in the win and pounded out 11 hits, including several potential home runs that were killed off by a stiff breeze.
“We’ve talked about the mental aspect of the game; having to focus and being disciplined in the box,” Minton said. “We’ve competed against a team like Andover, who has a phenomenal sophomore pitcher. Then we turn around and we’re in the WAC and it depends who you’re against. Garden City has a great pitcher. Hannah Hearld (Hays) would have been a great pitcher. We’ll compete against Liberal and Hays, then turn around and go to Kansas City and face four of those schools. Our schedule is up and down so it’s going to take a lot of discipline in the box.”
Game two offered more promise for the Redskins as Bayouth held Great Bend to just three runs in the first inning. The Lady Panthers ultimately pulled away for another run-rule, but Liberal Coach Hope Cox was pleased with her team’s performance.
“Ultimately, it’s nice to win at the end of the day, but we made a lot of little goals,” Cox said. “We hit five of six of them in the second game. A team like this, they hit really well. There’s not a lot you can do to a team that knows how to play ball and can do a lot of good things on offense. We went out there and tried to do the best we could and adjust where we needed to. A lot of little goals helps instead of making one big one.”
Liberal did have some base runners in game two. Sophomore Hunter Marcum came in to pitch for Great Bend, and Liberal junior Sandra Armendariz ripped a liner toward the gap in right center. Kasselman in right field gloved the ball but collided with Welsch in center. Armendariz ended on second with a double. Junior Jordan Urban added a single later in the game.
“It was just one of those in-between balls where you don’t know whose it is and you both go for it,” Welsch said of the collision.
Both players escaped injury. In the next half inning, Welsch legged out all four bases after a fly ball was dropped in center field, and Kasselman singled in a run.
Defensively, Liberal’s Alize Tatum had the two best plays of the day with sliding catches in left field. One took the sophomore all the way to the warning track near the dugout where she slid to make the grab.
Welsch reached base in six of her seven at bats with two triples. Senior Regan Unruh, who just inked with Barton Community College to play basketball next season, walked four times, singled once, and came around to score five times. Mauler walked four times, and Dreiling went 3-for-3 in game one with a pair of RBIs and runs. Junior Hannah Honomichl officially went 1-for-1 on the day. She had a sac bunt, and it was her hit down the line that scored the final two runs of the evening.
Great Bend moves to 5-1 on the year. Liberal falls to 0-8.