The crack of aluminum meeting the softball made for a tense moment at the Maize South softball complex when Eisenhower’s Emma Pabst turned on a pitch in the top of the seventh inning and the game-tying run at second base in a Class 5A regional championship game.
Hearts raced on both teams when the ball zipped toward left field and no one in front of it. With a spot at the state tournament on the line, Maize South senior Alyssa Kerr came off her line at third base for a dramatic, diving catch for the final out to secure an 8-7 victory for the Mavericks on Tuesday.
It was the 10th straight win for Maize South (18-4), which included a 16-5 run-rule victory over Newton earlier Tuesday, as the Mavericks will play at state for the second straight year. Eisenhower saw a 15-7 season come to an end.
“It’s kind of a blur, honestly, but I know I made it happen,” Kerr said, laughing. “I’ve been playing softball for a quite awhile, so I just kind of made the play. I was kind of nervous, but I did it. Being a senior, that’s a great memory to have.”
If there was going to be a hard-hit ball with the stakes so high, Maize South coach Mike Tinich said there’s no one else he would rather have it go to than the senior at the hot corner.
“She’s been our starting third baseman for three years now and she’s just been rock solid for us,” Tinich said of Kerr. “She has always been a force for us, but she’s played like that senior leader this year. It’s been amazing to watch. To have a senior end it like that, it’s just really exciting.”
While Maize South views itself as a title contender backed by upperclassmen, Eisenhower starts four freshmen and three sophomores. To compete with a team like Maize South in a championship environment was encouraging to coach Amber Brunswig.
“We definitely talked about that moving into next year when the season starts leaving where we left off,” Brunswig said. “We have a lot of heart.”
The Tigers put the pressure on Maize South early, taking a 4-0 lead after the top of the third inning. Freshman Calli McConnell delivered a 2-out, 2-RBI double, then Eisenhower plated two in the third inning on a hard-hit shot back at the pitcher by sophomore Brittany Gosch thanks to some heady base-running by Emma Furnish.
After Maize South rallied for eight runs in the third and fourth innings to take an 8-4 lead, Eisenhower trimmed the deficit in the sixth inning with a 2-RBI single by Allyson Montgomery and then to 8-7 in the seventh inning when Gosch delivered a 2-out RBI single.
Eisenhower thought briefly it had the game-tying hit when Pabst crushed the ball to the left side, only to watch Kerr make the diving play.
“My player hit the ball and put it in play and (Kerr) just made a great play on it,” Brunswig said. “Inches the other way, who knows, it could have tied the game. We put ourselves in a position to score some runs, but they just made a great defensive play.”
“There’s always nerves when the ball gets hit off the bat like that because you don’t know where it’s going to go,” Maize South senior pitcher Ashlie Thissen said. “But Alyssa has always been good for us at third. She’s at the hot corner for a reason and we trust her. I know she has my back and I have hers.”
Maize South battled back from a 4-0 deficit in the third inning when Kaydyn Davison hit a RBI single followed by a 3-run home run from freshman Emma Edwards, her second of the day after hitting a grand slam in the first game, for a 5-4 lead. A 2-out hit by Carley Sterneker in the fourth inning cleared the bases for three more runs to extend the lead to 8-4.
“Emma was struggling there a little early and she finally waited for one and you didn’t even have to look,” Tinich said. “You hear the sound and you’re like, ‘That’s gone.’”
Maize South finished off the win behind a trio of seniors in Kerr, Thissen and Wichita State signee Lauren Johnson.
Now the Mavericks wait to see which seed they will be in the 5A tournament hosted at Maize on May 23 and 24. After a first-round exit last season, Maize South is motivated to make sure it lasts until the second day this time.
“This year is a lot different, the girls are putting in work every day in practice and you saw us come together there at the end,” Thissen said. “That’s what we do. We come together and this team is different and special and we’re going to make it all the way.”
Maize South 16, Newton 5 (6 innings)
|5 6 3|
|Maize South (17-4)||040||1(11)|
|16 12 0|
W — Maize South, Sterneker. L — Newton, Watkins. HR — Maize South, Edwards.
Eisenhower 11, Andover Central 6
|Andover Central (6-11)||320||000||1|
|6 8 5|
|11 8 2|
W — Eisenhower, Montgomery. L — Andover Central, Orlowski.
Maize South, Eisenhower x
|7 7 1|
|Maize South (18-4)||005||300||0|
|8 10 1|
W — Maize South, Thissen. L — Eisenhower, Montgomery. HR — Maize South, Edwards.