Andover Central capped a season of conquering adversity Saturday with a 5-4 victory over previously unbeaten Independence in the Class 4A-Division I softball final.
Strangely, that probably is the Jaguars’ second-biggest triumph this season.
Edging it out for the top spot is coach Rita Frakes’ beating Stage 3 breast cancer.
Frakes, diagnosed with the disease in April 2017, was determined to coach her girls this season.
“I just come and work and be with my kids every day,” she said. “It’s what I aim for. I wanted to be well enough to coach, and I did. Not one bit of pain is there when I’m with my kids.
“I couldn’t have gone through all I’ve gone through without the support of these kids. They’ve loved me, they’ve helped me through it, they pushed me through it, and they believed in me through it.”
Beating cancer, then beating all comers for the state title.
“I know; it’s amazing,” said Frakes, who captured her second state title in 13 seasons with the Jaguars, also winning in 2009. “We had some lumps; we had a 1-2 week slump in there where we kind of lost focus of things, but the kids just came together, and this was more important than other things. They just turned on the afterburners.
“This is what I live for. I didn’t get to coach volleyball, but nothing was going to stop me from coaching softball.”
The path to the title was anything but simple for the Jaguars (15-10), each step getting progressively more difficult. As the third of four seeds in the regional, they beat Circle (15-1) and top-seeded Augusta (11-10) — handing the Orioles only their second loss of the season — to get to state.
Entering as the No. 7 seed, then seeing the first day postponed because of rain, Andover Central pulled out a marathon 12-inning victory Friday over No. 2 Piper, which eliminated them last year.
“It just took a little bit longer,” Frakes joked.
The reward for that was facing No. 3 Paola on Friday night.
In that semifinal, the Jaguars trailed Paola 4-1 after three innings. Although they scored a run, they were hitless to that point. But just as the earlier games, the team pulled together, exploding in the later innings and ending up with an 8-4 victory, setting up Saturday morning’s date with top-seeded Independence.
“The kids got home at 1:30 (a.m.), then got up and were hitting in the cage at 6:30,” Frakes said. “I told them that when they were done (Saturday) that I wanted them to not have an ounce of anything left, and I really do think they did that for us.”
Against Independence, the teams were scoreless until the third, when the Bulldogs (24-1) took a 1-0 lead on doubles by Qwynn Marquez and Laney Wood off junior Audrey Orlowski.
But Andover Central tied the score in the fifth when sophomore Kalei Cline doubled, stole third and scored on Maura Flahive’s sacrifice fly.
It stayed that way into extra innings. In the top of the eighth, junior Brooklyn Strobel doubled and scored on senior Jordyn Maddex’s single. Bulldogs pitcher Morgan Mavers then walked Lauren Wolf, and Cline stroked an opposite-field home run to left for a 5-1 lead.
But in the bottom of the inning, Orlowski walked Wood to open the inning, and sophomore Katie Boline — a transfer from Independent — came in from right field. Boline had been the winning pitcher in both games Friday. But she also struggled, surrendering three runs before Marquez — the potential winning run — hit a grounder back to her for the final out.
“I just told them ‘One hit at a time,’ and they’ve really tried to live by that this year,” Frakes said. “They don’t have to try to do it all themselves. It paid off.”
The resiliency followed a pattern. In last year’s regional final, the Jaguars scored 12 runs in the final inning for a 13-7 victory over Circle.
“From that moment on, we just realized that we just don’t give up,” Frakes said. “The kids have just decided that we’re never done until we’re done.”