HASTINGS — West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic came one step closer to defending its Class C state title, coming from behind to defeat Kearney Catholic 4-2 in a second-round winners-bracket game in the state tournament at the Bill Smith Softball Complex.
Earlier in the day, the Bluejays proved they can win a slugfest in defeating Freeman 19-11. But the nightcap was all about defense and runners left on base.
"We felt confident the whole game that we could score some runs," Guardian Angels coach Alan Kreikemeier said. "But we left a lot of base runners early and sometimes that just kills you."
The Bluejays recorded seven hits in the first three innings but left the bases loaded in the second and two runners in scoring position in the third.
That third frame was especially frustrating for GACC. Kate Gnad led off by smashing a base hit between the third baseman and shortstop. The left fielder misplayed the ball, and it rolled to the fence.
Gnad took off to second and didn't slow down as she headed for third. But the Kearney Catholic left fielder, Kami Kaskie, made a perfect throw to third baseman Carleigh Eurek, who tagged out Gnad.
Kayla Fischer and Aubrey Kreikemeier followed with back-to-back base hits. Kiley Pojar then sent a towering shot to deep center, but the center fielder, Krista Lee, made an outstanding running catch for the second out. Tori Buss then hit a scorcher but right at Eurek, who retired the side.
The Stars finally broke through in the top of the fourth as Olivia Nore led off with a double and scored on Bralen Biddlecome's single. Biddlecome later scored on Lauren Marker's base hit to make it 2-0.
The Bluejays got on the board in the bottom of the fourth when No. 9 hitter Shelby Perchal singled to right-center, stole second and scored on Livia Hunke's base hit to make the score 2-1.
Guardian Angels pitcher Kayla Fischer seemed to get stronger as the game moved along as she retired six of the seven batters she faced in the fifth and sixth innings.
Then in the bottom of the sixth, the Stars' defense, which had been stellar, let them down.
The Bluejays' Tori Buss led off with a walk. Brooklyn Steffen came in as a courtesy runner and moved to second on Leah Jansen's sacrifice bunt. Brynn Baumert then reached on an error by the shortstop, to put runners on first and second for Perchal, who hit to the second baseman and reached on another error.
The ball rolled into right-center field. Steffen scored the tying run and Baumert scooted to third, but Perchal was thrown out on a throw from the center fielder to the shortstop while trying to make it to second base.
Hunke then hit another ball that the second baseman couldn't handle and Baumert scored the go-ahead run. Finally, Gnad hit a pitch down the third-base line, which the third baseman misplayed and it rolled to the fence. Hunke scored all the way from first and Guardian Angels led 4-2.
"We finally got something to break through," Kreikemeier said. "We hit the ball a couple of innings and right to them. We just had to get that, and they helped us out. The pressure got to them."
Hunke said she and her teammates were getting nervous. "It was a little stressful, knowing that we only had two innings left, but we knew we could do it and we all had faith in our batters."
The Bluejay batters put the ball in play and took advantage of four errors in the inning and just one base hit.
"Them four errors just killed them," Kreikemeier said. "They're going to just keep thinking about that. But that's part of the game. We talk about that, letting go of that last error so it doesn't become contagious."
That left it up to Fischer to get the final three outs and she did it with a strikeout and two groundball outs for the 4-2 win.
"My pitcher was just staying so focused; she did a marvelous job," Kreikemeier said. "That's a good-hitting team, and holding them to two runs is a big deal for us."
Guardian Angels will play the only other unbeaten team in the tournament, Wahoo Neumann, at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
The Cavaliers have won all three meetings with the Bluejays this year by scores of 3-0, 6-4 and 19-11.
"My kids are looking so forward to it," Kreikemeier said. "We were in the games with them all the time, we were neck-and-neck. They're a great team, but we know we can play with them."
Class C state softball
Kearney Catholic 000 200 0 — 2 6 5
GACC 000 103 x — 4 10 0
WP: Kayla Fischer; LP: Bralen Biddlecome; 2B: (KC) Olivia Nore