By scheduling Great Bend to finish the regular season, Thomas More Prep-Marian softball coach Melissa Schoepf was hoping to see how her team would react in key spots against a larger school.
Schoepf was encouraged by what she saw from the Monarchs, who bounced back from a 5-4 loss in the first game to earn a split with an 8-7 walkoff victory over the Panthers on senior day Tuesday at TMP.
"I like playing Great Bend in this last game because they're always good competition for us," Schoepf said. "It helps us get geared up for regionals. They're going to make us earn the win when we play them; that's what I like to see. It helps build character and it gives us some adversity to have to work through."
Trailing by a run, TMP (15-5) came up with clutch at-bats in the bottom of the seventh of the second game. Anna Gottschalk got the Monarchs started with a one-out single and moved over to second after Great Bend couldn't get the force out at second on Bailey Lacy's ground ball to third.
Freshman Emilee Augustine then delivered an RBI double to score Gottschalk and move courtesy runner Leanne Rack to third. After Great Bend intentionally walked Brianna Romme, Lexi Gottschalk lifted a fly ball to right field that was deep enough to score Rack for the winning run.
"I was really nervous, but after that second strike I felt OK about it," Lexi Gottschalk said.
Schoepf said she was proud of her team's execution in the seventh.
"We're always harping on the kids about being mentally tough — wanting the ball, wanting to be in the batter's box, having that killer instinct," she said. "I felt really good about where we were in the lineup going up for the last inning.
"We have a group of kids that hate losing. I felt like the ones we had up there, they were going to put the ball in play. That's just the kind of players they are."
TMP took a 2-1 lead in the second inning of the nightcap after a Great Bend error scored two. The Panthers plated four in the third but TMP answered back with three in the bottom of the frame to make it 6-5. Anna Gottschalk brought in a run with a single and TMP added two runs off Panther errors.
Great Bend tacked on another run in the top of the fifth but TMP got back within a run on an RBI single by Augustine in the bottom of the fifth.
Anna Gottschalk and Augustine each had two hits in Game 2 and Lacy earned the win in the circle.
In the first game, TMP trailed 5-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh before rallying for three runs in the final frame. Augustine had a two-run double before Great Bend got a flyout to end the game. Augustine went 4-for-4 at the plate with two doubles in Game 1.
Between games, the Monarchs recognized its four-player senior class — Lacy, Romme, Anna Gottschalk and Ciara Seib.
"They've been huge," Schoepf said. "One thing I love about them is they are competitors. They do not give up. With their body language, you can never tell if they're up by 10 or down by 10, all of them. They just come at you. That's something I've always respected about them and something I hope our underclassmen take with them, just to see that competitiveness and that they're not going to give in easy."
Lexi Gottschalk, a junior, said it was a relief to win the last game at home for the TMP seniors.
"I would have been kind of heartbroken for them if we would have lost both of them," she said.
The Monarchs will play in the 3A regional at Goodland next Tuesday.