HASTINGS — Trying to beat the top team in Class C is something nobody in Class C had done this season.
Guardian Angels Central Catholic almost did it twice.
The Bluejays won a classic first game Friday afternoon and had the early lead in the winner-take-all finale, but couldn’t keep the Lady Jeffs’ hot bats from staging a comeback as Fairbury edged GACC 6-5 to claim the school’s first title at the Class C State Softball Championships.
With two on and two out in the sixth inning of a one-run game in the first championship, Guardian Angels Central Catholic coach Allen Kreikemeier rolled the dice and put Fairbury’s best hitter on base, leaving the situation up to their second-best hitter.
Erin Franzluebber fanned Raven DeFrain to end that threat, and when the Bluejays scored three in the top of the seventh, it looked like GACC was on its way to a winner-take-all matchup.
But Fairbury came back and, with two out and the tying and winning runs on base, Kreikemeier made the same call, putting Jaelle Johnson on first and leaving it up to DeFrain.
Franzluebber once again struck out DeFrain, handing Fairbury its first loss to a Class C opponent and sending the battle to the winner-take-all finale.
“You can look like a real fool sometimes with calls like that, but she proved how great a hitter she was and I really felt our odds were better with the next good hitter,” he said after the game. “We got that win and that was big for us, because we wanted to prove that we could play with them and beat them, because nobody in Class had done that.”
The first game was scoreless until the fourth when the Bluejays touched Lady Jeffs pitcher Josi Mann for a pair of runs.
Kayla Fischer singled home Marissa Hunke for the first run of the game, and Jenna Schinstock came home on a double play to stake the Bluejays to the 2-0 lead.
After Fairbury cut the deficit in half in the fifth, Fischer came up with one out in the sixth and launched a two-run homer to center to make it 4-1.
Fairbury scored two in the sixth when Franzluebber struck out DeFrain the first time, and GACC appeared to be in good shape in the seventh when Kate Gnad hit a three-run shot to center.
Fairbury would come back again in the bottom of the seventh before Kreikemeier rolled the dice a second time, walking Johnson to get to DeFrain, where Franzluebber came up big.
The Bluejays looked to be in good shape early in the second game, using RBI singles
by Brenna Rief and Schinstock and a two-run error by Fairbury to get out to a 4-0 lead after three.
But Fairbury came back in the top of the fourth, putting two on for Mans, who hit a towering fly ball that the wind carried over the fence for a three-run homer. Kreikemeier considered walking Johnson again, but chose to let her bat and she took the first pitch on a line drive over the center field fence to tie the game at 4-4.
“I think Erin was starting to wear down and maybe we should have made the pitching change sooner there,” Kreikemeier said. “Erin had a great tournament and pitched well in all three games today.”
Fairbury got a run in the fifth to lead 5-4, but GACC matched that in the bottom of the inning on a Melissa Hagedorn single, scoring Hunke.
Fairbury got the go-ahead run in the seventh on an RBI single by DeFrain, and Mans struck out the side to give the Lady Jeffs the title.
While there were some long faces among the Bluejay team after the second-place finish, Kreikemeier said it was a fantastic season for a team that met a lot of its preseason goals.
“It hurts now to get this close, because you don’t get this close very often, but tomorrow I think we’re going to be really happy,” he said. “When we started the season, I told them I wanted us to be one of the top two teams in the state and get to the championship, and these girls met that goal. I wasn’t sure if we could make it at the start the year, but we got here and that was pretty cool.”
GACC 7, Fairbury 6
GACC 000 202 3 — 7 11
Fairbury 000 012 3 — 6 12
WP: Franzluebber. LP: Mans. 2B: Mans, DeBoer, Ohide. HR: Mans, Gnad, Fischer.
Fairbury 6, GACC 5
Fairbury 000 410 1 — 6 7
GACC 004 010 0 — 5 6
WP: Mans. LP: Meister. 2B: Mans. HR: Mans, Johnson.