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Wichita Carroll wins 15th softball championship
SCOTT PASKE KSHSAA COVERED The Wichita Carroll softball team celebrates its 15th state championship.


KSHSAA Covered

WICHITA – History will show Bishop Carroll won its unrivaled 15th state softball title in convincing fashion over St. Thomas Aquinas on Saturday at Wilkins Stadium. 

But when the Golden Eagles unpack memories years from now of their 12-2, run-rule victory in six innings in the Class 5A championship game, it’s likely they’ll also recall the suspense-filled semifinal that got them there. 

With their title hopes on the verge of extinction, Carroll rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh to edge Maize South 6-5, foiling the Mavericks’ bid for their first state title. Carroll then took the momentum and ran – and hit – in the ensuing finale, belting and blooping 15 of them while Aquinas stung itself with four errors.

"Once you do that, you’ve got to finish it,’” Carroll coach Steve Harshberger said of his team’s comeback that produced the penultimate win in a 27-4 season. “They came out and finished it, so it was a lot of fun. We had to get through the first one, though. Maize South played a good game.”

The Eagles’ first victory of the season, an 8-6 decision over Maize South, was Harshberger’s 200th since he began coaching at Carroll in 2014. His 225th – the one that put the Eagles in the championship – came against the same opponent and required some gumption.

“We knew the pressure was on, but we work on pressure situations all year long,” said first baseman Cambell Riordan, who hit an RBI single during the late charge. “We knew it was our last chance and we really didn’t want to be in that third- and fourth-place game. No one ever really does. We knew what we had to do.”

Carroll’s comeback featured a little of everything. Ally Orth doubled, Olivia Navarro hit a sacrifice fly, Riordan scored on a wild pitch and the Eagles drew four walks, including back-to-back free passes to Zoe Buessing and Desi Segura that plated the go-ahead run.

Maize South was unable to threaten in the bottom of the inning, sending Carroll to the final on a high.

“The pressure was the first night,” Harshberger said. “Get to today. Then it’s get to this game.

“Once we got here, it was like, ‘Don’t let anybody stop you now. It’s all yours.’ That’s kind of what our motto was. We’re here. Take care of it.”

After Aquinas stranded a runner at third against Orth in the top of the first, Carroll’s offense pounced for four runs on four hits in its first turn. Riordan, who finished the season with 64 RBIs, started her 3-for-4, 4-RBI title tilt with a blooper over the infield that scored the Eagles’ first run.

Aquinas (25-5), which reached the championship with a 5-4 semifinal victory over top-seeded Spring Hill, committed three errors in the first. One was a throwing miscue on a pickoff attempt at third that allowed Orth to score and make it 2-0.

“We shot ourselves in the foot and they did the right things – they took full advantage,” Aquinas coach Keith Hughes said. “Very uncharacteristic. We just didn’t look like us in that game.”

Orth’s run came during senior Ani Marcotte’s 19-pitch marathon at-bat in which she fouled off several pitches. While Aquinas pitcher Alayna Vaeth eventually retired Marcotte on a comebacker, the duel highlighted the relentlessness of the Eagles’ lineup.

Nine Carroll batters hit safely.

“We got up on them early and that always makes it easier to relax,” said Riordan, a Benedictine signee who added an RBI double in the second and a two-run single in the third. “The pressure is on them and not us basically the whole game.”

The Eagles made it particularly difficult on Aquinas with two outs. In the first inning, junior Lillian Martin hit a two-out RBI single to make it 3-0, and sophomore Emerson May followed with a liner to center on an 0-2 pitch that scooted past the outfielder for a fourth run.

Carroll stretched its lead to 7-0 in the second with a three-run rally that began after the first two Eagles were retired. Navarro followed Riordan’s hard-hit double with a two-run double that ended Vaeth’s time in the circle.

Riordan’s good fortune continued in the third with a perfectly placed blooper to center that also came with two outs, scoring May and Natalie Thimmesch to stretch Carroll’s lead to 9-0. Meanwhile, Orth yielded just one hit in the first four innings, a single by Aquinas’ Kelsey Schenck that was quickly erased on the next pitch with a groundball double play.

The Saints broke through in the fifth on a two-run triple by junior Shalynn Elmore. But Orth, who struck out seven in the complete-game victory, fanned the next two batters to silence the uprising.

Marcotte highlighted Carroll’s third four-hit inning of the game with a two-run double in the bottom of the fifth to make it 11-2. After Orth quickly retired the side in the sixth, the Eagles closed out the victory after back-to-back singles and a fielder’s choice loaded the bases.

Keira Stripling, who led off the semifinal rally a few hours earlier with a walk, drew a bases-loaded walk that plated Buessing with the title-clinching run.

After Valley Center ruled Class 5A the past two seasons, Carroll won its first title since 2021 and fourth under Harshberger. As the Eagles celebrated in the outfield after the game, much of the conversation centered around the clutch comeback that served as the springboard.

“If we can do that, we can do anything in the championship game,” Orth said.