EMPORIA — Victoria Benvin fought back tears as she posed for photos with the state championship trophy at the Class 2-1A softball tournament Saturday.
The freshman pitcher, who threw all 21 innings for Udall this weekend, was simply overjoyed by her team's accomplishment.
"This is really great and very emotional," Benvin said. "But it feels really good."
The Eagles (24-1) put the finishing touches on a successful season with both dramatics and dominance. In order to reach the championship game, which it won 9-2 over Sacred Heart, it first had to squeak out a 4-3 semifinal victory over Ell-Saline.
Udall fell behind in that game 1-0 after three innings, and entered the seventh needing an offensive surge to break open a tie game.
More than enough time to pull out the win for a program that won the title in 2006 but has also had four second-place finishes and two undefeated regular seasons that ended without a state title for coach Jack Kistler.
"In the past, we haven't been able to make it happen," Kistler said.
This time, Udall came through in the semifinal. Benvin quickly got on base with a double, and senior second baseman Brandi Smith drove her in with a double of her own.
"Brandi got the key hit that won the ballgame," Kistler said. "We knew we needed one run to win it and not go into extra innings. She came through and put us in the championship game."
The exciting victory gave Udall momentum it rode to a state title. The Eagles scored the championship game's first run in the second inning and broke things open in the third. By stringing together seven hits, they were able to score six runs and take a commanding lead.
"Everything came together that inning," Kistler said. "We finally got our bunt down. We weren't doing that earlier and we just went from there."
Hailey Brooks helped spark the big inning with a double.
Behind the strong pitching of Benvin, who held Sacred Heart to four hits, that was more than enough offense.
"She just seemed like she got mentally stronger with every pitch she threw," Kistler said.
With three years remaining in her high school career, the future looks bright for Udall even though it loses five starters.
When the celebration was over, though, Benvin made sure to praise her teammates and thank the seniors who led the Eagles all season.
"It was really tough for me out there," she said. "There was a lot of pressure pitching every inning. But I felt like I did pretty great and my team really backed me up. They did everything for me. They put me back up when I got down. They're my family, and I'm so glad we won and I have them as my team."
Salina Sacred Heart (13-13) 000 020 0 — 2 4 1 Udall (24-1) 016 020 x — 9 13 1
Jayhawk-Linn (19-6) 006 120 0 — 9 2 2 Ell-Saline (21-3) 003 000 2 — 5 10 3
Ell-Saline (21-2) 001 002 0 — 3 4 1 Udall (23-1) 000 120 1 — 4 6 1
Sacred Heart (13-12) 130 311 0 — 9 10 1 Jayhawk-Linn (18-6) 000 010 2 — 3 10 4