The final ground-out triggered a taste of sour déjà vu.
For a second season in a row, Blue Springs South finished as runner-up in the Missouri high school softball state tournament. Marquette defeated the Jaguars 2-0 and won the Class 4 state title Saturday at Killian Stadium in Springfield.
Memories of a 4-3 loss to Troy Buchanan in the 2016 state title game stuck with Blue Springs South catcher Haley Woolf for a full calendar year. The Evansville University softball signee and her teammates wanted to play for a championship and redemption.
“Ever since last season we were like, ‘Okay, we’ve just got to do the same thing next year and work as hard as a we can to get back here,’ and we definitely did that. We worked so hard as a team,” Woolf said.
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The win gave Marquette its first state championship in five appearances. Marquette coach Amy Doyle was impressed with the way both teams played under the pressure of the state championship game’s atmosphere.
“The pressure is so high in this setting,” Doyle said. “Teams are so good, and so you know any given moment that you have to really take care of what you can control. And so the mental part of this game really comes into play at this point.”
An autumn wind blew in steadily from center field at around 20 mph, making hits precious and few for both teams. Marquette second baseman Lillian Knesel scored from second base on a hit in the first inning by junior third baseman Tabitha Cacheris. The Mustangs couldn’t touch Blue Springs South junior pitcher Easton Seib for any more earned runs.
Seib allowed five hits in six innings, striking out two and walking none. Seib threw 51 of her 68 pitches for strikes and set the Mustangs down in 1-2-3 fashion in four of the six innings she pitched.
Jaguars coach Kristina Williams couldn’t ask for much more from the right-hander.
“(Seib) did amazing. We gave up that run in the first, and we just kept telling her we’d get her a run. We just kept telling her we’d get her a run, and it didn’t happen today,” Williams said. “She buckled right back down and got the outs that we needed, so she did an amazing job. She did a phenomenal job.”
Seib, who finished the season 11-5 with a 3.80 ERA, said she often thought of the second-place finish of 2016 as Blue Springs South (24-10) made its run through the playoffs this fall.
“It was always in our head. This game, we were like, ‘We want a different result. We want a different result,’ and we just couldn’t get it,” Seib said.
Junior Annah Junge tossed seven scoreless innings to secure a state championship for Marquette, 29-3. She struck out eight batters and walked two. She allowed just one hit, a bunt single to Blue Springs South right fielder Raegan Hecker in the third inning.
Woolf said Junge, 19-2, used her command and the wind conditions to her advantage, getting nine outs on fly balls.
“(Junge) had a good riseball, and I mean, if you’re swinging at that and it’s going to go into the air most of the time unless you get really on top of it,” Woolf said. “That was a big part of getting us to fly out so many times, and other than that she just worked the zone really well.”
The taste of defeat will likely linger for a few days, but Woolf searched for a silver lining in the clouds that blew over the stadium throughout Saturday’sgame.
“Right now it doesn’t feel too good, but once you look at the overall picture it’s awesome to get back here two years in a row,” Woolf said.
Blue Springs South had never advanced to the state softball semifinals until 2016.
“Someday they will realize that this was about so much more than a trophy,” Williams said through a lump in her throat. “I know it (stinks) to not have the first place trophy, but they learned so much about themselves, they learned a lot about each other.”
Like a bad sense of déjà vu, the feel of second place will stick with the Jaguars for at least one more year.
“We still feel like we have unfinished business,” Williams said.