HASTINGS — Tori Kniesche’s rocket arm has been the worst-kept secret on the Wayne softball team this season, as the senior hurler has put together a record-shattering season.
As it turns out, Kniesche’s got one heck of a bat, too — and she beat Beatrice with both to carry the Blue Devils to its second straight state championship.
Kniesche launched a 1-0 pitch off Beatrice hurler Addison Barnard with one out in the top of the seventh, and her three-run shot brought Wayne back rom a one-run deficit to help them beat the Lady Orange 5-3 in the Class B final of the State Softball Championships Friday afternoon at the Smith Softball Complex.
Kniesche’s game-saving round-tripper capped a day where she hit five home runs and drove in 10 runs on the day, helping Wayne reach the championship with wins over Seward (9-1) and Beatrice (6-1).
Kniesche had hit a two-run homer in the first inning of the winner-take-all matchup to give the Blue Devils an early 2-0 lead, but Beatrice chose to intentionally walk her on her next two plate appearances.
When she came up after Amara Hurlbert walked and Kendall Dorey singled, the Lady Orange chose to take their chances with the Blue Devil captain — and they paid for it.
“I still can’t believe they pitched to Tori, but we’ll take it,” coach Rob Sweetland said after his team capped a remarkable run that saw them win 30 of their last 31 games and add a Class B state title to the three they won in 2002, 2003 and 2018.
Sweetland said it all came down to the team deciding that they hadn’t come this far to settle for second place.
“It would have been easy to go into that last inning and just take your silver (medal) and go, but they just kept coming back and coming back and I’m so proud of the girls to keep believing,” he said.
Beatrice chipped away at Wayne’s early advantage, scoring single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings. The first run came on a wild pitch by Kniesche, the game-tying run on an RBI double by Carley Leners, and the go-ahead run on a Wayne error.
But Kniesche’s late-game heroics weren’t limited to the bater’s box or the pitcher’s circle.
After an error and a walk put the winning run at the plate, Kniesche reacted perfectly to a sacrifice bunt attempt by Whitney Schwisow and caught the pop-up between home plate and the pitcher’s circle. She then turned and fired to Hurlbert at first, who caught Barnard for the second out at first base.
Three pitches later, Kniesche encouraged a soft pop-up in foul territory by Hannah Lytle that Hurlbert settled under in front of her own dugout for the final out as her teammates mobbed her in celebration.
That the Blue Devils (35-4) were even in the Class B field after losing six starters from last year’s 35-0 Class C championship team was something even their coach had trouble believing.
“I knew Tori would give us a chance, but I thought that making a district final under the new format would be an accomplishment,” he said. “If we got to the top 16 and possibly make it, that would be great. We weren’t good enough at the start of the year, but these kids got better and worked hard and it was one of those dream seasons for us.
And with Kniesche — who struck out an amazing 499 batters this season — serving as the team’s leader, Sweetland said it was an amazing finish to the season.
“It’s a credit to Tori for all of her hard work paying off and how she helped to bring the younger kids along,” he said. “Today was her day. She just had a state championship kind of day.”
The Blue Devils earned the second shot at Beatrice after a 6-1 win that saw them hit three home runs against the Lady Orange.
Beatrice got on the board when Barnard hit a leadoff home run, but Wayne responded when Kniesche hit a two-run shot to give Wayne a 2-1 advantage.
In the third, Kniesche went deep again with a solo shot, and Dorey followed in the fourth with a three-run blast to put Wayne in control.
Wayne 5, Beatrice 3
Wayne 200 000 3 — 5 6
Beatrice 001 110 0 — 3 5
WP: T. Kniesche. LP: Barnard. 2B: Leners. HR: T. Kniesche 2.
Wayne 6, Beatrice 1
Beatrice 100 000 0 — 1 2
Wayne 201 300 x — 6 8
WP: T. Kniesche. LP: Barnard. 2B: Fleming. HR: Barnard, T. Kniesche 2, Dorey.