Abby Stromer did all she could from her shortstop position to get to the ball, but her throw to first base didn't quite beat the Tekamah-Herman runner.
The fifth-inning, supposed grounder during Saturday's tied Class C District 1 title game had popped up off of Arlington pitcher Sarah Theiler's foot and into the outstretched glove of Stromer.
“My first thing was, 'Can I walk?'” said the senior who took the hit to the foot.
She found that she could, but Eagles coach Janelle Lorsch checked just in case.
“And then I go, 'Wait a second. Did that ever hit the ground?'” Theiler said.
Lorsch went to the umpires and asked, which led to an out call Arlington wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Stromer's highlight snag led directly into a three-run sixth inning at the Two Rivers Sports Complex. The Eagles beat the Tigers by those three runs, 6-3, earning their third straight Class C State Championship tournament berth.
“Whenever a tough call goes our way, it's always a very exciting thing,” Theiler said. “That got us all more excited, and then I think we all just had more confidence at the plate.”
Senior Jaidyn Spoon knocked in Stromer, and Theiler cracked a two-RBI double into left field, as Arlington completed a perfect 3-0 sweep through the district tournament. It was all sparked by an instinctual play by a senior shortstop.
“At first, I just saw the ball in the air, so I just darted after it,” Stromer said. “I didn't even know it came off of her foot. I was just going to make the play.”
Overall, the Eagles made more plays than Tekamah-Herman. Hailey Brenn and Emily Lingenfelter pushed across runs to give AHS an early 3-1 lead, but the Tigers had an answer. Two doubles during the fourth inning tied the score, giving Lorsch's team another chance to show what it is capable of.
“We focused. We maintained composure. We didn't panic,” the coach said. “We just played like us.”
That Eagles approach has now delivered three-straight state tourney appearances and five overall. Arlington improved to 21-6 this fall with its three district wins.
“They play to a high level because that's kind of the expectation,” Lorsch said. “The seniors expect the freshmen to play that way every single year. When they walk in, the older ones know the expectation and they bring the rest of them along.”
Spoon credited her team for its ability to adapt. Needing to replace three key seniors from 2018, young players stepped in and stepped up. Together, the Eagles improved as they went.
“We continued to progress through the season,” the centerfielder said. “We never got worse. We just got better and better.”
There was pressure on Arlington to reach the state tournament all year long. It started the season as the Lincoln Journal Star's No. 1 team in Class C and began district play Wednesday as a No. 1 seed with a less-than-guaranteed shot to get a wild card in defeat.
For the Eagle seniors, who have been apart of two-straight third-place finishes at state, the pressure was even higher.
“It feels like it's your last chance, so you just have to do as much as you can,” Stromer said.
Like catching a liner off of your pitcher's foot?
“Yes,” Stromer confirmed, grinning. “Exactly.”
That's what AHS softball is all about — focus, composure and having the patience when things are tough to let the team's skill show when it matters. On Saturday, coach Lorsch said her team played like itself.
“This is Eagle softball,” she said. “This is how we play.”
Eagles reach final with 2 wins
The Eagles started their district run with a 9-1 Wednesday win against Wahoo. They led just 2-1 through three innings, but opened the game up with a five-run fourth. Cadie Robinson hit a grand slam before Brenn followed it with a solo homer of her own.
Spoon added a 2-RBI knock during the fifth to end the game by run rule in Arlington's favor.
The C-1 tournament then took a break. Games originally scheduled for Thursday didn't take place until Saturday after rain and cold temperatures settled in Washington County.
Arlington, however, didn't lose a step. It beat the Wahoo Neumann Cavaliers 6-2 to advance to the finals. The Eagles scored at least a run during each of the first four innings and had Theiler strike out the final batter she faced to earn the victory.