The Fort Calhoun and Arlington High School softball teams closed out the weather-delayed Nebraska Capitol Conference (NCC) Tournament on Monday in Louisville.
Coach Mandy Taylor's Pioneers (18-7 overall) defeated the Eagles (13-13) in the semifinals and advanced to their first conference title game since 2012, according to the coach, losing 9-6 to the champion Douglas County West Falcons.
Coach Janelle Lorsch's AHS squad, meanwhile, bounced back from their second loss to FCHS in five days and defeated Yutan/Mead, 3-1, in the NCC third-place game at Ash Grove Field.
Pioneers take 2nd
Calhoun's lineup was poised to start its first conference title game together Monday, building a 5-1 lead through two innings against the Falcons.
“We've got great leadership,” coach Taylor said, naming seniors Sam Brewer, Kaitlyn Welchert, Taylor Nolan and Zoe Gillespie. “They just do a really great job of getting everybody hype. And, our junior class, is just right there ready to follow and be leaders themselves.”
Success first came during the top of the opening inning. DC West's first batter reached base before FCHS pitcher Anna Taylor struck out the next three Falcons she faced.
“Our bats are our strong suit, but when Anna can come in and strike three of their top-four hitters out in the first inning, that helps, too,” coach Taylor said.
The Pioneers then scored three runs during the bottom half. Kaylee Taylor walked and stole second base first before Nolan hit an RBI triple to centerfield.
Next, Lucie Larsen was hit by a DCW pitch, setting up Brewer's sacrifice for a 2-0 advantage. Welchert produced a 3-0 lead, too, hitting a double into the outfield.
The Falcons responded with their own run during the top of the second frame, but FCHS was unfazed. Tacey Belina reached base to lead off the bottom half before scoring on Kaylee Taylor's one-out bunt. Ahead 4-1, Nolan pushed across another run with a hit into right field.
The Pioneers led by four for just a short time, though. The Falcons' offense got hot during the third frame with five runs. Coach Taylor tried a pitching change still ahead 5-3, but it couldn't keep DC West from scoring three more runs.
“We thought we'd be able to mix it up with Anna and Tacey and try to, if we needed to, just give them different looks,” she said. “It just didn't work out for us.”
After Welchert singled and Addie Benoit reached base on an error, Calhoun tied up the title tilt at 6-6 with Belina's RBI single through the middle infield.
A fourth-inning RBI single and two-run homer proved to be the difference for the Falcons, though. Nolan, Brewer and Kaylee Taylor added hits during the fourth, fifth and sixth frames, but FCHS couldn't quite come back to win a conference title in Louisville.
To reach the finals against DC West, though, the Pioneers shutout Arlington, 6-0, Monday. Belina earned the five-inning pitching victory, striking out six Eagles.
Brewer, Benoit and Anna Taylor, meanwhile, had FCHS RBIs in the semifinals win.
Then, on Tuesday, the Pioneers played two more games against Class C No. 4 Central City and Highway 91 in Leigh. They lost 1-0 to the 26-2 Bison first despite four Anna Taylor strikeouts across 5 1/3 innings in the circle.
Then, during an 11-1 win against Highway 91, Benoit and Izzy Greenough hit FCHS homers. The Pioneers were set to play against Logan View/Scribner-Snyder on Thursday, will host a Cuming County doubleheader on Saturday and begin subdistrict play Monday. Postseason brackets were unavailable as of press time.
Eagles earn 3rd in Louisville
Arlington pitcher Tessa Spivey helped the Eagles break their five-game losing streak during the NCC opener and, Monday, earned a second win in the circle against Yutan/Mead for third.
“We've been in a slump lately, so it feels good to take third in the conference,” the sophomore said after the 2-1 tourney run in Louisville.
AHS beat Yutan/Mead 3-1 in the consolation game, cutting off the Patriots at one run during the bottom of the seventh inning. Spivey capped the victory with a strikeout.
With more varsity responsibilities this fall, the right-hander has had less opportunities to pitch in junior varsity games. With regular Eagles starter Rylee Fuehrer in a walking boot Monday, though, Spivey delivered.
“I can see it's coming back,” she said of her pitching prowess.
Arlington and Yutan played three scoreless, NCC Tournament innings before the Eagles' Kallan Reed led off the top of the fourth with a double. After a flyout, Emme Timm knocked in the game's first run.
Ahead 1-0, Britt Nielsen led off AHS' fifth inning with a double, too. Lydia Schaapveld reached base next before Teagan Taylor's sacrifice fly gave coach Lorsch's squad a two-run advantage.
Nielsen later added her own RBI double in the sixth before Reed preserved the Eagles' 3-0 lead during the bottom half. With a Patriot swing carrying a softball toward deep left field, the outfielder tracked it through the air.
“I always see it when it's at the highest point and I kind of base my reaction off of where it's at,” Reed said.
It carried and carried, but the Eagle caught it as it was about to clear the outfield fence and reach the ground beyond it.
“I didn't think I had it,” Reed said. “I thought it was going over.”
The sophomore got to the ball, though, and Arlington went onto win with its defense making the necessary plays late.
“It feels good to have them back me up because, sometimes, we can struggle with that,” Spivey said.
The third-place victory capped a 2-1 tourney run for the Eagles. Reed credited Dianna Flores' return from injury as a reason why their team found success in Louisville.
“I think that has a big impact on how we've been playing,” she said.
AHS did, however, drop its NCC semifinals matchup with Fort Calhoun, 6-0. Just Nielsen recorded a hit against the Pioneers, while Schaapveld and Reed struck out six combined batters from the pitching circle.
Then, on Tuesday, the Eagles competed against Wahoo and lost, 11-2. They led 2-0 through two innings, but couldn't hold of the Warriors on the road.
AHS was scheduled to close out its regular season schedule Thursday in Yutan and next competes Monday in subdistrict play. Postseason brackets were unavailable as of press time.
HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL LINE SCORES
Fort Calhoun 11, Highway 91 1, 4 inn.
FCHS (18-7) 1 8 0 2 — 11
H91 (5-20) 0 0 1 0 —1
Wahoo 11, Arlington 2, 6 inn.
AHS (13-13) 0 2 0 0 0 0 — 2
WHS (16-8) 0 0 1 2 1 7 — 11
No. 4 Central City 1, Fort Calhoun 0, 6 inn.
FCHS (17-7) 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0
CC (26-2) 0 0 0 0 0 1 — 1
Douglas County West 9, Fort Calhoun 6, 6 inn.
DCW (15-8) 0 1 5 3 0 0 — 9
FCHS (17-6) 3 2 1 0 0 0 — 6
Arlington 3, Yutan/Mead 1
AHS (13-12) 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 — 3
YM (8-10) 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 — 1
Fort Calhoun 6, Arlington 0, 5 inn.
AHS (12-12) 0 0 0 0 0 — 0
FCHS (17-5) 0 1 2 3 X — 6