SALINA — Putting together a big inning can swing momentum for a team.
Giving up big innings, though, can prove disastrous.
That’s what the Hays High School softball team encountered Friday night at the Class 4A Division I state tournament in Salina.
The Indians gave up two five-run innings in a 10-5 loss to top-seeded Kansas City-Piper, ending their season.
“We just had some mental mistakes and errors that kind of left the door open for them,” said HHS coach Erin Wagner. “Had we not had those mistakes made, maybe it’s a little bit different. But one thing the girls didn’t do was give up. I’m really proud of them for that. But without those mistakes, it’s a different game.”
Hays High (10-11) rattled off back-to-back hits to open the game but squandered any opportunity to take an early advantage after two lightning delays before the contest even started.
Instead, Piper (19-2) exploded for a five-run burst in the bottom half of the first inning, taking control and never trailing.
Freshman Kaitlyn Brown struggled to find the proper placement with a tight strike zone, eventually being relieved by freshman Jaysa Wichers after getting only two outs.
Hays High allowed only two hits in the inning, but gave up four walks and had an error that would have led to a sure out.
“If it wasn’t the deciding factor of the game, it was close to being that because we’ve had that stuff happen before throughout the season,” said Piper coach Stan McAfee. “I’m sure the Hays team has had the same thing. You take away all their momentum and shift it our way. I think it turned our girls’ mindset into knowing they could win the game if we held them to that. Hays was tough, real tough.”
The Indians struggled at the plate against Piper starter Abigail Henry until the third inning. That’s when senior Shannon Schumacher (2 for 3 at the plate) led off with a single, followed by a two-out infield single by senior Albany Schaffer — who went 2 for 4 — and a walk to Kaitlyn Brown.
Senior Tessa Stickel gave the Indians new life with the bases loaded.
“I went up to talk to her right before that at bat, and I told her she looked pretty cool and collected,” Wagner said. “She said, ‘Yeah, I think I’m good.’ I could tell she was really confident going into that at bat.”
Stickel hit a grand slam over the center field fence, pulling HHS within 5-4.
“It was a big momentum changer for our team because everyone was in it,” said Stickel, who went 2 for 4 and drove in all five runs. “There was no question about it that we could do it. It set it in everyone’s head that we can come back and that we are that team that can do it.”
It gave the Pirates some concern, until they answered with five runs again in the bottom of the third on three hits, a pair of walks and an HHS error.
“Coach and I were sitting there before, and I told him we’d be alright as long as (Stickel) didn’t hit a home run,” McAfee said. “Then she hit the home run. Fortunately, they didn’t get anything else, and we came in and put some more runs on the board. We felt that kind of shifted the momentum again back to us. We had the feeling like, ‘What do we have to do to keep Hays from scoring?’ We’d score, and then they’d score.”
“That was huge,” Wagner said about Stickel’s grand slam. “The thing is we came back and gave up too many runs the next inning, which kind of took the wind out of our sails. But these girls are relentless and didn’t give up. I still saw the drive through the seventh inning, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Senior Madison Prough hit a one-out double in the fourth, but Hays High couldn’t advance her beyond second. The Indians tried to rally again in the fifth when senior Nicole Dinkel led off the inning by being hit by a pitch and stole second.
Dinkel later scored when Stickel hit a two-out double off the wall in left field, making it 10-5.
“She crushed that one to left field. She just crushed it off the fence,” McAfee said. “She’s a heck of a ball player.”
“I think we were all just a little bit nervous at first,” Stickel said. “Once we found ourselves, we picked it up — but it was just too late.”
Hays High had a hit in each of the last two innings but never could muster another serious rally.
“Walks, hit batters, errors gave them more opportunities than we should have without those things,” Wagner said. “Without those, there’s no extra five runs. But the girls kept fighting.”
Henry got the complete-game victory for Piper, allowing the five runs on nine hits, with six strikeouts and two walks. In relief, Wichers allowed five runs on seven hits, with a strikeout and three walks in 5.1 innings.
Piper 10, Hays High 5
Hays High (10-11) 004 010 0 — 5 9 2
KC-Piper (19-2) 505 000 x — 10 8 1
Ka. Brown, Wichers (1) and Fagan; Henry and Sparks, Carr (6). W — Henry. L — Ka. Brown. 2B — Prough, Stickel, Hays High; N. Salazar, Lauritzen, Mullins, Piper. 3B — None. HR — Stickel, Hays High.