Varsity Softball

Augusta pitcher throws 28 postseason innings and strikes out 53 to win state title

Sometimes when Augusta softball coach Jamie VanDever gets home, his wife wants to know what he does during games because pitcher Gracie Johnston seems to have everything handled.

“Well, I sit on the bucket,” VanDever said. “Sometimes I pace around and try to act like I know what I’m doing. When Gracie is on, there’s not a lot to do.”

Augusta won the 2019 Kansas Class 4A softball state championship Saturday in Salina with a 5-2 win over rival Andale/Garden Plain. Johnston capped one of the more outrageous postseasons and one of the best Orioles careers with her first state title and Augusta’s first since 2015.

Johnston threw four of the final five games to end the 2019 season. She pushed Augusta to a 1-0 win over Anderson County in the state quarterfinals and a 6-0 win over one-loss Clay Center/Wakefield.

During Johnston’s postseason, she threw 28 innings, allowed 15 hits and three runs. She gave up four walks, had 53 strikeouts, and opponents had a 0.154 batting average against her.

At the state tournament, she was arguably better. She threw all three games and gave up two earned runs with 41 strikeouts. Johnston is heading to Missouri State now that her high school career has come to a close.

augusta high school softball gracie johnston
Augusta’s Gracie Johnston Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

It was a memorable weekend for the Johnston family. Behind the plate, Gracie’s younger sister, Sophie, caught every pitch. Earlier in the season, the coaches called the game, told the duo what pitch to throw. Soon, they worked with the coaches to call the games themselves. They met, and VanDever said he allowed the sisters to take control.

The sisters have become one of the most dominant pairings not only in Class 4A but all of Kansas, VanDever said.

“I would not let just any ordinary catcher call a game,” he said. “Gracie is an outstanding, outstanding talent, but her sister behind the plate has a lot to do with her success, too.”

VanDever said though the Johnstons were outstanding in their control of the game, the Augusta defense behind them was almost equally as flawless.

With the final out of the championship game, Augusta first baseman Allie Ebenkamp made a backhanded block on a hard hit ground ball. When she looked up, she knew she was going to get beaten to the bag.

Ebenkamp picked it up with her hand, transferred it to her glove, ran to first and dived to get the runner out and clinch the title. VanDever said it was an amazing play that meant so much for Augusta’s three seniors.

VanDever is in his second season as coach of the Orioles. Before that, he coached the junior varsity team and at the middle school. He watched the 2019 class of seniors grow up and become champions. For Kourtney Divine, the Orioles’ third baseman, VanDever started coaching her when she was 7.

“With the way last year ended with a heartbreaking loss to Andover Central in the regional championship, to come back and get redemption was the highlight of my career,” VanDever said.

Augusta's Gracie Johnston
Augusta won the AVCTL III softball league title in 2018. Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

Augusta’s road was not easy. VanDever said Topeka Hayden was one of the top four teams in Class 4A, and the Orioles had to beat them 2-1 in the regional championship just to stay alive and get to state. Once they got there, Augusta’s three opponents had a combined 50-9 record, including the only team to beat them in 2019, Andale/Garden Plain.

The two met for the first time in a doubleheader April 29 at Andale. The Indians took the first game 2-0, and the Orioles earned a split with a 5-0 win in game 2.

VanDever said it was the hardest route of any team left in the state tournament. Augusta’s title extends its lead as queens of Class 4A. The Orioles now have five state championships, and all have come in 4A.

“Our theme all season has been, ‘Figure out what champions do, and do that,’ “ VanDever said. “That’s the way it worked out.”

Related stories from Wichita Eagle

Wichita Eagle preps reporter Hayden Barber brings the area updates on all high school sports while adding those hard-to-find human-interest stories on Wichita’s student-athletes.