ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — West Platte ace Abby Summers thought her dreams of playing Division I softball were over during her sophomore season. She struggled to fight through the pain of a bursitis in her right arm on the way to a then school-record 290 strikeouts.
Tendonitis and rainouts last year as a junior further hampered her efforts to catch on with a top-tier school.
“I’m happy this year that I’m healthy,” Summers said. “I’m more confident than I’ve ever been in my rise ball, which is usually my out pitch. It’s better than it’s ever been. I feel like I’m getting better this season and growing up. It’s my last year so I want to do it right.”
Summers received a Division I offer from Florida International after attending a pitching camp there this summer. She was quick to commit to the Panthers, always dreaming of playing in Florida.
“I feel so much more relaxed,” Summers said. “There’s not that stress constantly hanging over my head. I can just go out and be myself and not have to worry about impressing anybody. I feel like it’s made me better.”
The Miami school was a perfect choice for a pitcher approaching 1,000 strikeouts for her career with the Bluejays. She has fanned 982 with two regular-season games and the postseason left. Summers recently eclipsed the 300-strikeout mark in a season for the first time, sitting at 302 as of The Citizen’s deadline.
West Platte had a home game vs. Mid-Buchanan on Tuesday evening before senior night vs. Lathrop on Thursday and next week’s Class 2 District 14 tournament.
Summers makes up half of a pair from rural Platte County set to play Division I following this season.
North Platte senior all-state center fielder Regan Nash, a four-year starter, committed to The University of Missouri over the summer. The speedy outfielder and leadoff batter helps provide a spark at the top of coach Ron Resler’s lineup. Jessica Heese, a former North Platte standout, signed with Southern Illinois and could play for the Division I Salukis in the coming years.
“Mizzou has always been a dream for me,” Nash said. “I’ve always been a big fan of them. It was hard (to get an offer). I worked every single day. I had to go so far for hitting practices and fielding practices. I’m finally on a good (competitive team). That can get me where I need to be. We all play competitive softball. We know more about the game. We know what’s happening and where to go with the ball.”
The duo’s skills were on display Sept. 26 at the Mid-Buchanan Tournament at Heritage Park in St. Joseph.
North Platte (23-0) took home the championship with a thrilling 9-7 win against St. Joseph Benton. The Panthers came back twice to take the lead and remained unbeaten on the season entering Tuesday’s action after a win Monday against DeKalb. North Platte outfielder Alley Rickel twice came through in the clutch with four RBIs in the see-saw affair.
“I was shaking a little because I was so nervous,” Rickel said. “I just kept on. I just kept my confidence up, and I knew I could do it. I am so happy. I’m very proud of myself. I’ve been working really hard. I’m proud of my team. We’re a team; we just stick together.”
Rickel’s first two RBIs came on a single in the third inning, which gave the Panthers a 4-2 lead before Benton reclaimed an advantage in the bottom of the frame to go up 6-4. The freshman’s single in the sixth made the score 7-6 prompting chants of 'She’s a freshman’ from the North Platte dugout. Kaycee Hodgson’s sacrifice fly plated the eventual winning run.
“This is the by far the best total softball team I’ve ever coached at North Platte,” Resler said. “I’ve had players just as good as some of these kids, but as far as being strong from 1-9, this is the best team I’ve ever coached. This is a good group of girls. I don’t care about winning every game that we play if we play well. If we would have got beat by Benton I would have said, ‘We got beat by a pretty good team.’
“I knew all along that when we got down one or two runs we were still in the ball game. These kids feel that way. We just needed a timely hit. It doesn’t matter how many hits you get; it’s when you get them. I’m tickled pink for them to win.”
Summers totaled 59 strikeouts in the tournament, pitching four games.
West Platte ended up in third place after losing 2-0 to Benton in the semifinals. The Bluejays then defeated Jefferson 8-0 in the third-place game with help from 19 strikeouts for Summers — bringing her total at the time to 290 and tie the existing school record.
Summers also whirled her fourth no-hitter of the season last week in a win against Plattsburg. The no-hitters have included a two different performances where she recorded every out by strikeout — a 15-K, five-inning win vs. East Buchanan and a 21-K, seven-inning win vs. Stewartsville.
Summers also struck out 21 in seven innings in an early season win vs. St. Pius X.
“Abby is the most humble athlete I’ve ever met,” West Platte coach Angelica Maxwell said. “Her being a Division I athlete, she never sets herself apart from her teammates. She is friends with everyone. She was voted homecoming queen. She wants to make sure what she does isn’t for herself but her teammates.”
North Platte earned the No. 1 seed in the upcoming district tournament, while West Platte is No. 3 behind No. 2 Bishop LeBlond. That sets up the potential for a semifinal rematch between the Bluejays and LeBlond, which squeaked out a win last year before beating North Platte in the final and going on to win the Class 2 state championship.
LeBlond beat West Platte 5-0 in their matchup this regular season, while North Platte beat the Golden Eagles and Bluejays two times apiece.