If results meet expectations, then through the first five seasons of the Trina Moquett era of coaching Garden City High School’s softball program, the Buffs had more than kept its share of the bargain.
Each year — 2013 through 2017 — the Buffs reached the Class 6A regional championship game, going 3-2 in the game that decides who advances to the state tournament.
In four of those five years, the opponent was the Hutchinson Salthawks, with the Buffs owning a 3-1 advantage, including last year’s 15-0 romp that set the stage for the Buffs to make history by winning their first ever game at the state tournament, and subsequently their second, en route to a third-place finish.
But in Wednesday’s rain-delayed regionals, the Buffs drew the No. 1 seed while rival Dodge City got the No. 2 seed of the four teams.
It seemed like an almost sure deal that the Buffs and Red Demons would meet in the championship game, and the Demons held up their end of it by run-ruling Wichita West, 15-0, in three innings.
But the Salthawks, entering 5-15, played nothing like a team that had lost three-fourths of their games this season, and the end result was a stunning 4-2 Buffs’ setback that ended their season much earlier than anticipated at Tangeman Sports Complex.
It was the first time in her six years of coaching the Buffs that Moquett’s team had not reached the regional title game, and the disappointment was evident for her and her team.
“They (Hutch) hit it hard and had a good approach to the game,” Moquett said afterward. “That’s certainly the best 5-15 club I’ve seen.”
In the championship game, the Salthawks made it tough on Dodge City, also sporting the same regular-season record as the Buffs, as the Demons held on for a 7-6 victory to advance to the program's first state tournament in 25 years of its existence.
The semifinal was a game that Garden never led, and it felt as though they were on the comeback trail the entire seven innings.
Hutch jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Audrianna Bender’s lead-off home run in the second, the first of three key hits for the Salthawk catcher. Ally Lusk’s one-out home run in the Hutch fifth made it 2-0, and with the Buffs struggling at the plate against Teegan Krol, and then Lusk in relief, it was tough going for the home team to get any kind of rally strung together.
“Early, we just kind of hit some shots hard, but right at them,” Moquett said. “We just didn’t get going fast enough to get any rhythm. If we’d gotten some into the gaps and scored a couple of early runs, I think we could have had the momentum, but it just didn’t happen. It took us too long to get going, and that’s just kind of how the day went.”
The Buffs’ offense was silent, getting only three hits off Krol and Lusk. Those were an RBI single by Ryleigh Whitehurst in the sixth that tied the game at 2. Hailey Dart, despite striking out nine and walking just two in relief, suffered the loss, and had a single in the fourth.
Laura Farmer had a one-out triple to right field in the Buffs’ final at-bat, but after a Taylor Terpstra walk, Dart and Lauren Koster offered groundouts to end the game and the season.
Garden City’s first run came without benefit of a hit in the fifth when Krol issued a walk to Whitehurst. With one out, Krol walked Reigan Crawford and Yazmin Vargas to load the bases. When Erykah Foster also reached on a walk to bring pinch runner Abby Parr in, it was 2-1.
That’s when Hutch coach Clayton Evans brought in Lusk to relieve Krol. In three pitches, Lusk got Farmer to into a fielder's choice on a force at home, and then Terpstra hit a slow roller to Lusk, who threw her out at first to end the rally and inning.
That would be the frustration of the day for the Buffs, leaving the bases loaded there in the fifth after stranding two in the fourth, and two each in the sixth and seventh for a total of 10 for the game — after having only one baserunner in the first three innings.
Moquett cited a lack of patience at the plate as another key factor in the Buffs’ inability to get any offense to sustain itself.
“We didn’t go deep into the count with their pitchers enough,” Moquett said. “It was not our normal day at the plate, for sure. I think once we got to the fifth inning, we started pressing. We should’ve hit their pitchers much better than we did.”
Krol had little trouble with the Buffs’ batters in the first four innings, yielding just the one hit by Dart while using only 39 pitches, limiting her count to nine, four, 13 and 13 in each of those first four innings.
But in the later stages, when any base runners were key to potential runs, the Buffs finally showed more patience at the plate, and were on the receiving end of six walks after going to a 3-2 count, and two of those free passes are what scored the only runs of the game for the Buffs.
Additionally, 15 of the 21 outs for the Buffs came when they swung at the first, second or third pitch of the at-bat.
Buffs notes: With the season-ending setback to Hutchinson on Wednesday, the Buffs’ softball team finished at 15-6 and were also runners-up in the WAC to Dodge City.
In her six seasons, Moquett’s teams are now 101-33, a .754 winning percentage. She has taken the Buffs to the state three times, finishing third in 2017. They have won the WAC outright twice, shared it once and finished second three times.
When the Buffs defeated Emporia on May 4, it was Moquett’s 100th career win at GCHS. Her season records have gone 17-4, 14-8, 16-6, 20-3, 19-6 and 15-6.