Minutes after walking off with the Kansas 6A softball championship, the Olathe Northwest softball team huddled around its first-place hardware, one of the players chanting, “It’s real, it’s real.”
With the score tied in the bottom of the seventh inning in Friday’s title game, Northwest pitcher Natalie Hamm stepped to the plate and fouled off pitch after pitch from Olathe East’s Hayley McGhee. Hamm did not get a fair ruling on a ball that seemed to chop to the right of the third-base line, but she caught a break when left fielder Megan Weigel was unable to come up with the final out of the inning in foul territory.
Hamm didn’t let the pressure get to her. She just tucked in, swung her hips and barreled McGhee’s final pitch. The ball lifted into left field and carried over Weigel’s head and onto the warning track.
Northwest’s dugout emptied. Half of the Ravens celebrated the 6-5 victory at home plate with Madison Young, who scored from third. The other half greeted Hamm on the Arrocha Ballpark infield.
“The baseball gods, they equal out. One way or another, she got her (hit),” Northwest coach Mark Mahoney said. “It’s too bad somebody had to lose tonight but I’m so happy for our school, our fans and our program.”
The Northwest seniors, including Hamm, had never been here before. They placed fourth as freshmen, second as sophomores and third last year. With Olathe South’s domination of the 6A tournament from 2015-16, there was no room for the Ravens to wiggle in.
That was not the case this year. By the regionals, Northwest had two hitters batting at or near .600, two pitchers with sub-1.50 ERAs and the type of offense that allowed Young to lead the Sunflower League with 41 RBIs. Teammate Shayna Espy tied for second in the league with 29 and Hamm was next with 28.
Entering the state tournament, Northwest’s first softball title since 2011, and its third in school history, appeared to be written in the stars. The Ravens (24-1) were the top seed and they’d only lost one game (to Olathe North, which East beat to reach the semifinals).
But eighth-seeded Haysville-Campus (10-11) knocked Northwest’s confidence down in the first round, scoring four runs in the seventh inning of a 6-5 game to remind the Ravens they still had to earn a championship.
“I feel like everybody was counting on us to win, so there’s so much pressure,” Hamm said. “I feel like making it more interesting was just kind of humbling us and we needed to earn it.”
The Ravens bounced back Friday morning, beating Garden City 11-5 on 11 hits and only stranding four runners.
But Olathe East (20-5), which walked off with a 10-9 win over Olathe South in eight innings despite jumping to a 4-0 lead, didn’t make it easy for Northwest in the championship. Northwest scored first on a throwing error in the second inning, but East tied it on McGhee’s single up the left side in the top of the third.
Northwest scored its next two runs in the following frame on a Halle England double and an Aubree Herrin sac fly.
The Olathe teams continued to pick at each other, with East’s Elise Byers tying the game on a two-run double and McGhee giving East a 5-3 lead with another RBI hit in the fourth inning.
But East wouldn’t score again. Since 1989, an Olathe school has won the Class 6A softball title 16 times.
Northwest’s Jo Jo Richard closed the gap with a run-scoring single. In her next at-bat, Richard squared up an 0-2 pitch for a two-out double that scored Loren Beggs in the sixth.
“It’s pretty special to have this many Olathes and how good they are,” Mahoney said. “We’re very blessed to have such talented athletes.”
Olathe East 10, Olathe South 9 (8 innings): South had scored nine unanswered runs and had a comfortable five-run lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning.
But East, which had stranded four runners since scoring four times in the first, went up hacking. The Hawks scored five runs, two of them on Elissa Rohr’s double, on five hits while taking advantage of some bad jumps.
East’s Devin Conley scored the winning run by beating out the throw from center on Rohr’s one-out hit.
South, which played 10 innings to reach the semifinals on Thursday, almost caught a break in the seventh when center fielder Elise Byers couldn’t spot a fly ball before it fell on the ground. The Falcons loaded the bases on two walks, one intentional, with two outs but stranded them all.
Garden City beat South (18-7) 7-5 for third place.
Olathe Northwest 11, Garden City 5: Northwest led off the bottom of the second with a back to back doubles to center field and barely put on the brakes after that. The Ravens scored four in the inning, two of them when Garden City (19-6) shortstop Alyssa Long laid out to stop a tapper up the middle. With the lead runners scoring easily, Long flipped the ball up to second base to try to get Madi Young for the second out, who was ruled safe.