Olathe East took a big step toward repeating as the Kansas Class 6A softball state champions Thursday with a 5-0 win against Blue Valley Northwest in quarterfinal action at Blue Valley West.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Senior pitcher Jenni Brooks scattered five hits and struck out five without surrendering a walk as the Hawks reached the state semifinals for the 14th time since 1998.
“We’re right where we want to be,” Olathe East coach Jeff Hulse said, “playing on championship day.”
Huskies senior Madison Jones greeted Brooks with a leadoff double in the top of the first.
Hawks junior McKenna Davis made a great diving try but couldn’t come up with Jones’ sinking liner.
Junior Kaitlyn Styve followed with a one-out single, moving Jones to third, but Brooks escaped trouble by inducing two soft infield pop-ups.
“I was a little anxious at first,” Brooks said. “You could really tell with my first at-bat. Our whole team the first inning was a little nervous, but after that we started to relax.”
Two runs in the bottom of the first certainly helped Olathe East, 22-1, settle down.
Junior Elizabeth Leonard and Davis led off the inning with bunt singles, scoring on a throwing error and junior Allison Stewart’s groundout to second.
“Sometimes, the first game is the toughest game, but we got into the flow and pushed some runs (across), which helped us relax a little bit,” Hulse said. “It’s always easier to play when you’re ahead.”
Brooks helped her own cause in the third, plugging the right-center field gap for a double and scoring on Stewart’s RBI base knock.
For good measure, Brooks added an RBI single and Stewart delivered her third RBI with a fielder’s choice grounder.
Five runs was more than enough for Brooks.
“My screwball worked pretty well and my changeup kept them off balance a lot,” Brooks said.
Washburn Rural 7, SM Northwest 4
Top-seeded Washburn Rural avoided an upset, rallying for a 7-4 win with a five-run sixth inning.
The Junior Blues, 23-0, took advantage of two first-inning errors to jump in front 2-0, but SM Northwest got one run back on sophomore Kristina Jaderborg’s bases-loaded walk an inning later.
The Cougars, 14-9, pulled ahead when Jaderborg and freshman Mallory Baker scored on a dropped flyball in the fourth.
SM Northwest padded its lead in the fifth when senior Cierra Carbajo singled and scored on junior Taylor Roberts’ RBI single, but Rural got to ace Katt Cooper in the sixth.
“My girls didn’t quit,” said Cougars coach Mark Balderston, who is retiring. “They kept battling back, but all the sudden you blink and they’ve got five runs and I went, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ But that’s the type of team they are. They can explode.”
Derby 3, Lawrence Free State 2
Silenced for six innings, Derby’s bats showed late life as the Panthers, the No. 5 seed from suburban Wichita, rallied with runs in the seventh and eighth innings for a stunning 3-2 win against Lawrence Free State.
“We had opportunities offensively and just didn’t take advantage of them,” Firebirds coach Lee Ice said. “Give credit to Derby. They hung in there down 2-1.”
Two Derby errors helped stake the Firebirds to a 2-0 lead in the first when junior Whitney Rothwell socked an RBI double and senior Courtney Parker followed with an RBI single.
That looked as if it might be enough for junior ace Meredith Morris, who cruised through six innings aside from a fourth-inning hiccup when Panthers freshman Kenzi Young led off with a double and scored on the back end of a double steal.
Then came the seventh inning and three straight singles from Derby, tying the game.
Panthers senior Britney Wimberly’s eighth-inning sacrifice fly eventually was the difference.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.