MANHATTAN — There were ample opportunities.
Only problem was, all those chances turned into several what-might-have-beens Friday morning for the Thomas More Prep-Marian softball team in the opening round of the Class 3A state championships in Manhattan.
The Monarchs left seven runners on base — including the bases loaded twice — and came out on the wrong end of three close calls — two at the plate and one at second base — in the team’s 8-1 loss to top seeded Gypsum-Southeast of Saline.
“That’s what we talked about,” said TMP coach Melissa Schoepf. “When you get to state, you have to be able to execute. You can’t leave bases loaded. You can’t strike out looking at pitches. I thought those first couple of innings we went in there attacking the ball, then I think they felt the pressure and started swinging at stuff and not swinging at things they should have and not capitalizing.”
TMP (17-7) came out focused, rattling Trojan starter Kendall Schlesener on the first pitch of the game.
Junior Alison Helget, who was playing with a broken left thumb she suffered in practice earlier this week, drove the first pitch to center field and moved to second on a sac bunt. Junior Katelyn Zimmerman followed with a double, putting runners at second and third.
Sophomore Bailey Lacy stuck out, but the ball got away from the catcher. Her throw to get Lacy at first was low, leaving Lacy safe and Helget scoring the first run.
But a fielder’s choice and a strikeout ended the Monarchs’ threat of adding more early.
Karis Calahan led off the bottom half of the first with a bloop single to left off Helget, who started on the mound for TMP. Calahan advanced to third after stealing a pair of bases.
She scored when Kaylen Lassley hit a grounder that was fielded cleanly and thrown home. But the umpire ruled Lassley got under the tag of Monarch freshman catcher Julia Werth, tying the game.
“They hit timely hits when they needed to,” Schoepf said. “They put the pressure on us to make those plays.”
The Trojans (23-1) took the lead in the third inning. Calahan started with a double, and Lassley followed with a one-out double, scoring Calahan with the go-ahead run. Lassley later scored on a fielder’s choice to make it 3-1 after three innings.
“We went up there and went swinging, but at times we became kind of timid and thought we could settle into that 1-1 score,” Helget said. “We never can do that in a softball game. You never can be satisfied. At times, we kind of held back when we should have pushed forward.”
That would prove to be all the cushion Southeast of Saline starter Kendall Schlesener would need. She didn’t allow a hit from the second through the fifth innings, facing the minimum amount of batters possible during the timeframe.
“My heart was beating really fast at the beginning, and I was just trying to settle down and relax my nerves,” said Schlesener, who got the win while striking out seven, walking two and allowing six hits. “After the first inning, I kind of settled in, and pitches were working better.”
The Trojans added another run in the fifth, then tacked on four more in the bottom of the sixth on two hits and an error, making it 8-1.
“I think from a mental aspect, once they started seeing more innings going by, I think they felt the pressure a little more,” Schoepf said.
“We went up there playing one of our best ball games at the beginning,” said Helget, who suffered the loss while giving up three runs on five hits in 2.1 innings. “Some calls didn’t go our way, and we have to work with that. That’s hard to do, but each one isn’t anything to be sad about.”
Southeast of Saline scored three runs on two bang-bang plays at the plate in the game, and another missed tag of a runner at second led to another run scoring.
“I told them this was our learning experience,” Schoepf said. “This was our first time in the state tournament, and we know what to expect when we come back here. We know what we have to do.”
SE Saline 8, TMP 1
TMP (17-7) 100 000 0 — 1 6 1
SE Saline (23-1) 102 014 x — 8 10 1
Helget, Lacy (3) and Werth; Schlesener and Francis. W — Schlesener. L — Helget. 2B — Zimmerman, TMP; Calahan, Lassley, Nickelsen, Thaxton, SE Saline. 3B — None. HR — None.