Hays High softball rally falls short
By NICK SCHWIEN
MANHATTAN -- It was heart that propelled the Hays High School softball team to the Class 5A state tournament.
The Indians battled ups and downs all season before pulling off two impressive wins at last week's regional tourney.
But while the heart was there during Thursday's first-round state game against Wichita-Kapaun Mount Carmel, the adjustments weren't. And that -- along with a few untimely errors -- proved to be costly as the Crusaders rallied for a 7-6 win to end the Indians' season in Manhattan.
"This time of year, it's wherever the momentum is at and who can carry it the longest," HHS coach Abby Maska said. "That's who's going to come out on top. It felt like we were getting a little bit satisfied, and the girls were trying to push each other, pump each other up. But we could not just make the adjustment at the plate. Their pitcher really wasn't throwing anything, but she was a lot slower than what we have been seeing lately. I think we just struggled with timing. That's something that good teams have to adjust on, and we weren't able to do it soon enough."
Hays High (18-5) roughed up Kapaun starter Kody Ross for four runs through the first five innings. Sophomore Kylie Brown started the scoring with a solo home run to right-center field to begin a three-run outing in the bottom of the third.
"It's just something that you never really think will happen in a state game," said Brown, who went 2 for 3 with two runs scored and an RBI. "It was a great way to start off the game, and I was glad I could help my team out and get us started."
The lead grew to 4-0 in the fifth when sophomore Nicole Dinkel walked with one out, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error by the catcher.
With two outs, sophomore Tessa Stickel hit a pop fly to right field, but the fielder failed to catch the ball cleanly, allowing Dinkel to score to make it 4-0.
In the top of the sixth, Kapaun (17-6) finally struck -- and in a big way.
The Crusaders took advantage of five hits and two HHS errors to plate six runs. Maska pulled Hays High junior starter Hannah Hearld with no outs and a runner at second. Sophomore Madison Prough allowed a single before getting a strikeout, then walked the next batter and hit the next one before Hearld was reinserted with Hays High trailing 5-4 after a wild pitch by Prough allowed the go-ahead run to score.
"We just couldn't seem to make an out," said Maska, whose team allowed the sixth run of the inning to score on a throwing error with two outs. "Our girls seemed tight. It wasn't the team we saw at regionals that was just playing aggressive and attacking defensively. We hesitated on our throws. We let them make us make mistakes. You can't play timid at this level. When you're afraid to lose, that's exactly what's going to happen. We just looked like we were afraid to lose instead of coming out and attacking and going for the win."
Sophomore Albany Schaffer led off the bottom of the sixth with a double and moved to third on a groundout for the first out. But a strikeout and a fly ball ended the inning.
"I've been coaching for 20 years, and there's always a moment in the game," said Kapaun coach John Cherne III. "And it all depends on how you do in that moment of the game. They battled really well. It could have been a lot worse."
Adrienne Esposito, the only Crusader with multiple hits, led off the top of the seventh with a double and advanced to third on a throwing error. Senior Elizabeth Dwyer followed with a groundout to score Esposito and a 7-4 advantage.
"After the third inning, I started calling girls over and talking to them about how they could adjust," Cherne said. "Sometimes it takes a little while to sink in."
Brown started the bottom of the seventh by reaching on an infield single, and senior Haley Wells hit a one-out single to center field. With the bases loaded and HHS trailing 7-5, Schaffer grounded into a fielder's choice to push across Wells, making it 7-6.
But Kaylie Schoendaller, third on the team in RBIs, struck out swinging to end the game.
"I feel like we didn't give up and showed a lot of heart in that last inning," said Hearld, who went 2 for 4 at the plate with an RBI while striking out 11, walking six and allowing five runs on the mound. "You just can't let it come down to one hit. ... We pushed two runs across. We just couldn't get that third one. But I think that shows our team's fight. We don't lay down and quit when we get down."
Kapaun didn't muster a hit on Hearld (17-3) until the sixth inning. Hearld, the top player in the Western Athletic Conference, finished the year with 181 strikeouts and 29 walks.
"We had a great season," Maska said. "For a lot of the season, it was a tale of two teams. You didn't know which one was going to show up. It was sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We just didn't know. It seemed we got more consistent at the end and were playing really good ball. Some of those past mistakes reared their ugly head again tonight. We just played timid and scared. We're a young team, and that happens. Hopefully we can come back next year with a better mentality and confidence. We're sure going to miss our two seniors, Julie Balzer and Haley Wells."
Kapaun 7, Hays High 6
Kapaun (17-6) 000 006 1 -- 7
Hays High (18-5) 003 010 2 -- 6
Ross and Swanson; Hearld, Prough (6), Hearld (6) and Wells; W -- Ross. L -- Hearld (17-3). 2B -- Gardner, Esposito, Kapaun; Schaeffer, Hays High. 3B -- None. HR -- Brown, Hays High.