Tuesday’s season-opening doubleheader sweep of Dodge City was a sign of progress for a Thomas More Prep-Marian softball team in the third year of its return.
The Monarchs took Game 1, 6-2, before rallying to take Game 2, 10-3, at TMP.
In years past, the Monarchs would’ve settled for a split, according to head coach Melissa Schoepf.
“In the past two years, we’ve always been able to hang with Dodge City in one game, then we’ve never been able to hang with them in the second game,” Schoepf said. “We’ve always been run-ruled, so I think for confidence, this is something that they needed. To know that they could beat a 6A school, they can compete with anybody out here.”
Sophomore Anna Gottschalk gave the Monarchs the lead for good in the season opener with a two-run double to center in the bottom of the third. Katelyn Zimmerman, Brianna Romme and Meagan Brin plated runs to cushion the lead for TMP starter Alison Helget.
Helget struck out 10 in the win, including the final two batters she faced.
“She’s able to keep batters off rhythm,” Schoepf said of Helget. “They don’t know if she’s going to throw a change up. She can throw change ups with a full count.”
“She started us of very, very well,” sophomore Bailey Lacy added.
“I couldn’t be more proud of her for coming out strong in that first game.”
Lacy got the ball in Game 2, and like in previous seasons, it looked as if the Demons would prevent a sweep. The visitors led 2-0 when the Monarchs came to bat in the bottom of the fifth. After Helget singled to score Bridget Heimann, freshman Emily Schulte scored on a Dodge City error to tie the game at two.
The Demons regained a one-run lead in the top of the sixth before the Monarch bats produced quite the response. Romme tied the game with a one-out single that rolled past the Dodge City first baseman. Heimann and Schulte earned back-to-back walks to load the bases before junior catcher Taryn Rupp made it 5-3 with a two-run single that dropped in left-center.
Zimmerman, Lacy and Gottschalk linked RBI singles to cap an eight-run sixth to make it 10-3.
The Monarchs are hoping that the late rally will help the team without any seniors play with poise at later and more important points of the season.
“It’ll totally give us that confidence because we know we can get up to the plate and put the ball in play no matter what the score is,” Zimmerman, a junior, said. “We just have to have that confidence to put the ball in motion.”
Dodge City’s Grace Ruehle ripped a two-out triple down the line to left, but Lacy ended the game with a strikeout. The TMP sophomore pitches year-round and figures to be a big part of TMP’s success this year.
“She’s able to move the ball inside (and) outside with some spins and some speed,” Schoepf said. “That helps. Our pitchers compliment each other really well. They both bring different strengths to the team.”
After garnering valuable experience in the two previous seasons, TMP’s players have set a goal of playing in the state tournament in May, but right now, the focus is on gradual improvement.
“Early in the season, we’re just trying to get better,” Schoepf said. “We want to peak at the right time, so we’re going to try and fix the small things, the small errors and try to fine-tune stuff. That’s when we want to be ready to go, when May rolls around.”
The TMP coach added that many of the miscues on Tuesday, mostly errant throws and confusion when backing up throws, are small errors that are to be expected in the first games of the spring. Regardless, a pair of wins over a Class 6A opponent is a good start.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Lacy said. “It’s been a long time coming for us to finally pull away from Dodge. It was one thing we really wanted to achieve, and we got it done. Hopefully we can keep going.”
“That was a good start to the season,” the TMP coach added. “I was proud of the way they played. They showed that they had that attitude that they weren’t going to go down easy. They had a chance to give in there when we got down twice in that second game, but they were able to battle back. That’s what we like to see.”
Thomas More Prep-Marian 6, Dodge City 2
Dodge City 001 001 0 — 2
TMP 003 021 x — 6
2B: Gottschalk, Zimmerman. Tieben and Stecklein, Dodge City; Helget and Rupp, TMP.
Thomas More Prep-Marian 10, Dodge City 3
Dodge City 101 001 0 — 3
TMP 000 028 x — 10
2B: Lacy, Stephenson. 3B: Stecklein, Ruehle. Stephenson, Tieben and Stecklein, Dodge City; Lacy and Rupp, TMP.