WAVERLY — Burlingame head coach Creighton Winters knew this day was coming.
But he was admittedly somewhat caught off guard that Tuesday was it.
His Bearcats defeated Lebo/Waverly, 5-3, in the regional semifinal before a 6-5 walkoff victory in eight innings over Northern Heights in the title match, sending his squad to next week’s state tournament.
“I knew we had a talented group coming into the year,” he said. “(But) we’re playing eight freshmen or sophomores at all times, so I thought this might be a year early but I knew we had the ability and we just kept getting better all year long.”
“We made two huge plays in that seventh inning to send it to extras. (They) ended up giving us a chance to win.”
The game was tied at three entering the seventh, but Northern Heights appeared to steal the momentum back after an error at shortstop and a hit batter put two runners on for pitcher Andi Wilson. Wilson blooped a single down the right field line to plate a run and when the throw in airmailed the third baseman, an insurance tally came around while Wilson motored into third.
Wilson, who had only allowed six hits — all singles — to that point, looked like that would be the icing on the Wildcats’ cake.
Two walks, however, proved costly as a sacrifice fly plated one and a two-out wild pitch let the tying run scurry home to send the game into extra innings.
Elly Dice had seen her team navigate out of some tense situations already on the day, so she believed another dramatic escape was forthcoming.
“I wasn’t nervous about it,” she said. “When we had the one-run lead with two outs and two strikes, I felt very confident in our ability.”
The bottom of the Wildcat lineup came up in the eighth and was retired in order, while Burlingame freshman Daelyn Winters’ fifth hit of the day was a booming double off the left field fence. A bunt moved the runner up to third base setting the table for Graci Masters, a sophomore who lashed a line drive to center field that was snagged with a sprawling catch, but it was more than enough to provide the winning run as Winters tagged up and raced home, with her coach and the third base dugout in a celebratory pursuit.
“It was all so surreal,” the younger Winters said. “It was so exciting, I just don’t have any words for it.”
Burlingame was forced to twice rally against Wilson and the Wildcats after senior Lexi Davis blasted a two-run shot to left in the opening frame. The Bearcats scored one in the second and after NHHS plated an insurance tally in the fifth, they came back with two to tie the game at three.
“This second game looked exactly how that first game looked in giving up that early dinger,” Coach Winters said. “We just fought and fought and fought and our girls never gave up. I’m so proud of them.”
In the semifinal match with Lebo/Waverly, Burlingame fell behind in the first inning after a pair of doubles and a two-run home run by the Wolfdogs’ Kirsten Oswald. After the first inning, however, the Wolfdogs’ bats went silent for the next five innings, while Burlingame scored one in the sixth to tie it and two more in the top of the seventh to steal back the lead.
“You can’t go five innings with two hits and expect to win,” Lebo/Waverly head coach Josh Oswald said. “That’s where we’ve got to get a little bit stronger. We’ve got to hit the ball a lot more effectively than what we did as a whole team.”
On the other side of the diamond, Northern Heights opened its day with a come-from-behind 6-4 win over Chase County.
The Bulldogs got a first-inning home run from Makenzie Higgs, but Khylee Massey belted a two-run shot in the third to give NHHS its first lead of the day. CCHS tied it back up in the fourth after a leadoff double by Higgs turned into a run.
In the fifth, Chase County committed a pair of errors, one at third base and another in right field, that allowed the Wildcats to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. After Chase County responded with an RBI double off the bat of Brylee Potter, NHHS tacked on another pair of unearned runs in the top half of the seventh. Higgs drove in her second run with a groundout.
The bottom four in the Bulldogs’ batting order was a combined 1-for-11 on the day, but only five of the game’s 10 total runs were considered ‘earned.’
“We played about as poor a defense as we’ve played all year,” CCHS head coach Brian Potter said. “It was what we did. That doesn’t happen very often but in that case, it was absolutely our performance (that cost us) and ... I didn’t have them prepared in a way that could give them an opportunity to win. You’ve got to be able to play good defense and we did not play good defense today.”
At the end of the day, the Bearcats’ bus rolled away with the joyful shrieks of “We’re going to state,” and the Wildcats were still filtering out of their dugout as the lights to the field were shut off.
“It’s going to take a little while to get over this because they worked really hard,” Dice said. “I don’t think the expectation was there for us to even be in the championship game as far as what others outside of our program thought of us. We certainly had seen it all season long. Our scores in some of our games didn’t reflect that, but there was always just one inning where we maybe couldn’t get that third out and the other team would get six runs on us.”
“I felt like we stepped up to the challenge (today), we went ahead, had the lead going in (but in) a championship, champions make plays and we just fell a strike short.”
Burlingame will advance to next week’s 2-1A State Tournament in Pratt with a lineup that was quite young but very productive.
“They hit at the top of our lineup, they’ve been the girls that have pretty much carried us all year at the plate,” Coach Winters said. “I’ve got some freshmen and sophomores that have played a lot of softball over the years, so they’re used to some big games and big situations and they came up big tonight.”
Bulldogs battered by Marion
salina — Arlen Sigel couldn’t find the escape hatch in the first inning.
The Bulldogs’ ace gave up five hits and four walks in an eight-run opening frame for Marion and the top-seeded Warriors claimed a 14-4 victory in the regional championship game on Tuesday afternoon.
Wyatt Reyer secured the final out of the first and followed with five innings, allowing just three earned runs.
The Bulldog bats, however, couldn’t quite catch up.
Sigel, Blaise Holloway and Joseph Soyez each had two-hit efforts in just Chase County’s
The Bulldogs finished with a 14-6 record, falling shy of the state tournament for the first time in three years.