Rally time for state
By KEVIN THOMPSON
By KEVIN THOMPSON
When Jamie St. Clair calmly scooped up a ball hit to her at third base, and she routinely threw it to first to get the final out of the regional title game, the senior fully realized what that play meant.
It was the fulfillment of a dream for her and the Lady Buffaloes as they captured the Class 6A regional softball title over Hutchinson, an 8-6 game that was anything but routine, on Wednesday at the Tangeman Sports Complex.
"It's been my dream to go to state ever since I was a little girl, and now we have the chance," St. Clair said moments after celebrating with her teammates.
Garden City hung around and hung around in the title game.
And it's a good thing they did, as they overcame sketchy play in the first five innings with a huge sixth inning rally that led to their ticket to state, which begins May 29 at Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park.
"We were making errors, but we knew that we could fight back because we had good sticks all day," St. Clair said, referring to the 17 hits they pounded out in just three innings in the semifinal game, a 16-0 blowout of Wichita East.
It turns out it wasn't big sticks that caused the comeback; it was small ball.
Down 6-4 in the bottom of the sixth, the Buffs exploded for four runs.
Shea Nordby led off with a single past short and Jordan Terrones' bunt turned into an error that put runners at the corners.
Garden loaded the bases with no outs, and Kennedy Brunson's single to second drove in a run.
Jamie St. Clair reached first on another error that allowed the tying run to score.
Dusti Befort hit into a fielder's choice, but the play at the plate was late, scoring Alyssa Long, and right behind her came Terrones as the play went back to second base for a tag out, and just like that Garden City was up 8-6.
From there, it was a matter of holding their opponents to secure the win.
"We had confidence in each other. We knew that we could do it," St. Clair said. "And we were confident at the plate. Nothing could stop us."
The Buffs needed all that confidence.
Errors plagued the Buffaloes early and often in the title game just moments after Garden City had disposed of Haysville Campus in the semifinal.
The Salthawks took advantage of those miscues to build their lead and maintain momentum.
Hutchinson scored first as Kacia Hilty beat out an infield single then took third on a throwing error. She scored on a passed ball, as did Shala Degarmo.
Garden City responded in the bottom of the first. St. Clair hit a triple to right and Befort followed with a first-pitch home run over the left-field fence.
Hutch scored on another error in the next inning, scoring Emily Idler from third after she walked to lead off the inning.
And in the third, the Salthawks scored two more runs, this time on a throwing error to home, scoring runners from second and third.
They scored again the the fifth on a passed ball to make the score 6-2.
That was six runs given up on three errors and a passed ball. But Garden City took advantage of a Hutchinson error in the fourth.
Abbie Dart reached base when an infield fly was dropped by the second baseman, advanced on Nordby's single past third and came home on Terrones' single to center.
That made up for a potential run in the previous inning when St. Clair, after a leadoff double, was thrown out for a double play on an argued call as she rounded third.
Then Haley Saldana sent a two-out, 0-1 pitch over the fence in the bottom of the fifth to cut the lead to 6-4 before the late-inning comeback.
Junior pitcher Befort said the errors were more of a wakeup call to her team than a distraction.
"We kept telling each other that this was not it. It was just this many runs, and the game's not over," she said. "We just boosted our confidence."
Her home run and timely sixth inning hit that led to her getting tagged out but allowing the extra run to score was huge.
"I'm glad they got me. I'd take an out to get my runners in any time," Befort said.
The final inning saw Hutchinson get runners at the corners, but Terrones caught the second out at the center field fence and St. Clair's put out two batters later took care of the rest.
Coach Trina Moquett said she had a hunch all week that things would turn out in her team's favor, even when they fell behind.
"The girls had the fight in them," she said. "We tried to get the girls all season to not get down, or even when we're down to keep fighting, and that's exactly what they did."
Limiting the damage caused by the errors helped keep the game close, she added, and the way they handled the moment proved how much they have grown this season.
"We didn't give up any big innings. We didn't let them get too far away from us," Moquett said. "The girls were hitting the ball hard, so keeping ourselves that close definitely helped us. I can't be more proud of the girls right now."
This will be the first trip to state since 2010, which means none of her girls have been to the state tournament, she said.
"This was the team that, at the beginning of the year, they're young. We didn't know what we were going to see," Moquett said. "We've had our bumps and bruises along the way this year, but they've grown and they've shown that they deserve it."
Hutchinson (13-9) 212 010 -- 6 6 3
Garden City (14-7) 200 114 X -- 8 10 3
Hilty and Idler; Dart and Nordby. WP--Dart. LP--Hilty. 2B--GC (St. Clair). 3B--GC (St. Clair). HR--GC (Befort, Saldana).
Game 1 semifinal
Hutchinson 9, Haysville-Campus 2
Haysville-Campus 000 101 0 -- 2 7 0
Hutchinson 001 134 X -- 9 18 1
Sanders, Woods and Gerlenkorn; Hilty and Idler. WP--Hilty. LP--Sanders. LOB--Haysville 3, Hutchinson 8.
Game 2 semifinal
Garden City 16, Wichita East 0
Wichita East 000 -- 0 0 2
Garden City 862 -- 16 17 1
Lawrie and Salas. Dart and Nordby. WP--Dart. LP--Lawrie. 2B--Garden City (St. Clair, Saldana 2, Terrones). 3B--Garden City (Dart). HR--Garden City (Dart). LOB--Wichita East 5, Garden City 0.