By AUSTIN COLBERT
The Hays High School softball team found out just how good it can be. Needing nothing short of their best performance of the season, the Indians came through with a 3-0 win at Great Bend on Wednesday in their Class 5A regional championship game.
“The kids played to their full potential and that’s what we have been chasing after all year. Just being so young we battled inconsistency throughout the whole season,” Hays High coach Abby Maska said. “It’s every coach’s hope that you peak at the right time, and today everything you could want to click did. It was fun to watch those kids play ball. It was some of the best softball I’ve seen in a long time.”
The two teams met the first time in a doubleheader on May 2, which resulted in 4-1 and 14-3 losses for the Indians in Great Bend.
But with a trip to the 5A state tournament on the line, Hays High (18-4) found a way to erase the disastrous memory of its previous meetings and completely shutdown Great Bend (17-5) behind another masterful performance from junior pitcher Hannah Hearld.
Hearld pitched all seven innings for Hays High, allowing only five hits, one walk and striking out nine batters in the shutout, her 17th win of the season.
Taking the loss was Great Bend’s Hunter Middleton, whose dominance wasn’t far behind that of Hearld. Middleton also pitched the complete game, holding Hays High to five hits and one earned run while striking out five batters.
The pitchers combined to keep the game scoreless into the sixth inning, when a run by Hays High ended the stalemate. The Indians tacked on two more runs in the seventh inning before the defense did the rest.
“All of us really focused in this week on making the big play and coming in with the clutch hits. I think that all showed tonight,” Hearld said. “This is what you work for, games like these. Close games. It’s just going to come up to the team that is going to make an error. I just think things really went our way tonight.”
Nicole Dinkel scored two of the Indians’ three runs, with RBIs coming from Albany Schaffer, Tessa Stickel and Haley Wells, who also had the third run.
The win came just hours after Hays High had defeated Goddard-Eisenhower (10-11) in the regional semifinals, 9-4. The Indian bats went wild in the first game, getting 14 hits — three each by Wells and Schaffer — and they used a four run sixth inning to run away with the victory.
Hearld also pitched all seven innings for Hays High against Eisenhower, giving up six hits, two walks and striking out just one batter.
The win over Great Bend, which was the No. 2 seed in the region (Hays High was No. 3), sends the Indians to next week’s 5A state tournament in Manhattan, which will be played May 29-30. It will be Hays High’s third state tournament appearance in four seasons.
“It was one of those games where you just kind of sat back and were just waiting for somebody to capitalize on a mistake. Really, it took almost all game long for us to finally get something through on Great Bend,” Maska said.
“We made some huge plays. This is the time of year where you want to start making those plays. It was good to see the girls step up.”