BROOKFIELD, Mo. — North Platte waited a long time to return to the Missouri State Softball Championships. Perennially good but accustomed to heartbreak, the Panthers had not made the trip to the final weekend of the season since 2005 when they tied for third place. North Platte booked its return trip to the state semifinals with help from the long ball in a 10-2 victory Saturday at Rusk Park.
North Platte lost in a district final vs. Bishop LeBlond twice, vs. Hamilton in sectionals and Brookfield in quarterfinals during the past four seasons alone.
“I’m overjoyed,” said Panthers shortstop Kaycee Hodgson, who finished 1-for-4 with a three-run home run in the fourth inning. “I’m so happy that we did it as a team, and we came through finally. We did everything together. It’s truly amazing. It was a team effort. We do it all together, all the time. We knew it wasn’t over (after the first inning), and it wasn’t going to be over.”
Brookfield necessitated some early nerves.
A miscommunication between Hodgson and second baseman Sarah Johnson led to a collision, allowing a pop fly to drop on the infield dirt for the first batter of the game. Brookfield lost the coin flip and played as the visiting team.
Taylor Ewing then bunted past an on rushing infield to put two on with none out. Then, Panthers pitcher Victoria Haugsness got the next two batters before Morgan Ewing singled to center to plate the first run and give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
Taylor Ewing advanced to third when North Platte centerfielder threw home to try and cut down the lead runner, and she then scored when a throw down to third trying to nab her advancing went into left field.
“If you stop and think about it, the score should have been 10-0,” North Platte coach Ron Resler said. “We turn around and drop a pop up, then a misplayed bunt and then we threw the ball around and now it’s 2-0, and I don’t think they had even hit the ball out of the infield. Good teams just suck it up and do what it takes to win.”
Morgan Ewing, Brookfield’s starter, retired the first five batters. She struck out three and didn’t allow a ball hit into fair territory.
North Platte’s Mikayla Mullendore finally broke the streak when she hit a deep fly ball to dead center field. Brookfield’s Gabrielle Corf retreated to the wall and reached over the fence only to have the ball glance off of her glove and go out for a home run. No one on the North Platte bench realized the ball left the yard not until Mullendore received a fist bump from Resler rounding third.
“I thought that the center fielder caught it, first of all,” said North Platte catcher Martina Williams, who hit a two-run home run two batters later to plate the eventual winning run. “Then she saw it go over and I thought, ‘Mikayla did it. Now, we just have to keep going. There’s two outs; there’s nothing that’s gonna stop us now. I had a really bad feeling in my stomach after the first inning.
“When I got up to bat I was like ‘This is it. This is where we come in.’”
Haugsness recovered from the two-run first inning to allow just two base runners the rest of the game — one hit, one walk.
North Platte plated three insurance runs in the third and four in the fourth — three on Hodgson’s blast and another when first baseman Chelsi Sams went deep to go back-to-back with the shortstop.
“When you score three, four runs the very next inning it’s very important that you don’t allow them to get baserunners on,” Resler said. “We did that twice. We scored four runs and then we scored three runs, and the very next inning we got them 1-2-3. If you have a big inning and they turn around and score two or three runs, it’s a push.”
North Platte (27-1) advances to play Fatima (20-7) on Friday, Oct. 24 at Killian Softball Complex in Springfield, Mo. The Comets advanced with a 9-1 win against Centralia in the quarterfinals.
The winner advances to Saturday’s championship game at 4 p.m., while the loser turns around and plays at 7 p.m. Friday.
“On my schedule that I handed out for (Brookfield),” Resler said, “it tells them what time we are going to eat, what time the bus leaves. I went all the way down, and I said, ‘And we practice Monday.’ That being said, had we not won this game it would have been senseless to practice Monday. I put down we’ll practice til 4:30 and they’re ready to go. That’s just the type of team I’ve got.”