McGraw's home runs help lead Buffs to regional softball crown

GCHS Athletics
Garden City High School's Rilee McGraw, left, is congratulated by Brie Manwarren after hitting a two-run home run against Wichita Northwest Wednesday during the championship game of a 6A regional softball tournament at Tangeman Sports Complex.

If one hasn’t figured the 2021 Garden City High School softball team’s mindset out quite yet, consider that they have lived most of the season looking at the edge of cliffhanger after cliffhanger.

And it seems as though they thrive on the biggest cliffs of all in the biggest games of the season.

So it should come as no surprise that Wednesday’s Class 6A regional championship game was just another day at the ballpark for the Buffs and their steady-as-she goes Coach Trina Moquett.

This time, the mettle shown by the Buffs came in the form of a 14-12 victory over Wichita Northwest in the title game to advance to the Class 6A state tournament on May 27-28 at Shawnee Mission District Softball Complex in Shawnee.

It will be the first trip back to the state since 2017 when that GCHS team made history by winning not only its first quarterfinal game but also to win the third-place game to bring home the first softball trophy in program history.

Now, the “Cardiac Buffs” get another opportunity to demonstrate that this team is greater than the sum of its parts. The win boosted their season record to 19-3 and they await the completion of other regionals in both the east and west divisions, some of which have been delayed due to inclement weather.

“I think that we just really support each other no matter what is happening,” said senior catcher Angie Serrano. “We have each other’s back and we just all come to play for each other.”

Garden City High School's Angie Serrano, right, reaches second for a stolen base as Wichita South's Gracee Thompson mishandles the ball Wednesday during a seminfinal game of a 6A regional softball tournament at Tangeman Sports Complex.

Serrano, who also has her younger sister, sophomore Angel, in the lineup this season as part of an entirely new roster for Moquett after the 2020 spring season got wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Only senior first baseman/pitcher Gisselle Gutierrez had seen any varsity action when the team had last taken the field in 2019 before the start of this campaign.

And she echoed her senior class/teammate’s sentiments almost to the letter.

“It seems like we struggle at times in certain innings, but we always have one or two big innings that carries us through the tough times,” said Gutierrez, who pitched the semifinal opening 15-0 rout of Wichita South/West after Northwest had been taken to seven innings in the first semifinal, 13-5, by Junction City. “We just don’t let things bother us so much, but I have to say late in this (Northwest) game, I got a knot in my stomach. We’re all into it and we just always motivate each other.”

Like many of the white-knuckle games in which the Lady Buffs have been involved this season, Wednesday was no different. It was something like the ebb and flow of a tsunami.

The visiting Grizzlies, who were 16-4 and the No. 5 seed, started things off with a single tally in the first but left the bases loaded. The Buffs answered with two runs when senior Rilee McGraw hit the first of two home runs in the game over the left centerfield fence, scoring Brie Manwarren who had singled with two outs.

In the second, four hits, a walk and a couple of Northwest errors opened the gates for the Buffs to score five runs to go up 7-1. In most cases, that lead would seem safe, but with Northwest’s bats booming as well, no lead was safe as a stiff breeze blew from the south to the home run fences to the north.

Manwarren, who steadfastly overcame a monstrous hitting attack by the Grizzlies, issued a home run to Ava Mullins in the third that led to three runs and then in the fourth yielded back-to-back home runs for another three runs by Northwest and all of a sudden it was knotted at 7-all.

McGraw’s two-out home run in the fourth put the Buffs in front 8-7 and while they would never relinquish the lead, it was far from safe. In the Garden fifth, freshman Angel Serrano lifted a high shot to right center and the heavens opened up for a two-run blast to put the Buffs ahead 10-7.

Northwest got a single tally in the sixth on Brailee Bogle’s second home run of the game. The Buffs padded their lead with a four-run sixth, getting four singles and a walk to go up 14-8 heading to the Grizzlies’ final at-bat. And, as one might expect, they needed almost all of that lead to survive.

Garden City High School third baseman Mya Cruz fields a grounder Wednesday during a 6A regional softball tournament at Tangeman Sports Complex.  The Buffaloes won the tourney and will advance to state action next week.

The Grizzlies’ lead-off hitter, Avery Silsby, who had been a terror all day at the plate, homered to lead off the seventh. Two singles, a fielding error and a walk accounted for two more runs before the final run crossed home plate on a single.

Manwarren was able to induce Aly Lawrence into hitting a soft liner to McGraw at shortstop to end the potential rally with runners on first and third base. The celebration was immediate and boisterous for the Lady Buffs.

“This was no different than what they’ve been doing so why do anything to change things up,” Moquett joked afterward. “This group has a We, Not Me, approach and it allows them to play freely even in the most difficult situations. They just play together, and rise up to meet whatever the challenge might be.”

The game lasted just a minute short of two hours as the teams combined for 26 runs, 35 hits and six errors. There were eight home runs, five by Northwest and three by the Buffs. Manwarren picked up her 16th win of the season against just two losses while throwing 134 pitches. Lawrence suffered the loss on the mound for the Grizzlies, who started Camdyn Stucky, brought Lawrence in during the second inning and then finished it off with Cayla Stucky, the older sister to Camdyn.

Moquett got big hits from top to bottom in the championship game. Angel Serrano, hitting in the eighth slot, was 4-for-4 with 3 runs scored and 2 RBIs off the big home run; McGraw was 3-for-4, 3 runs scored 4 RBIs; Manwarren 2-for-4, 3 runs, 2 RBIs; Parr 1-for-5, 2 RBI; Jesy Foster 1-for-4, 2 RBI; Gutierrez and Cruz each had an RBI as the Buffs cranked out 16 hits off the 3 pitchers.

“Our hitters did an amazing job,” Moquett said. “We were just hitting in the zone all day and we needed all of it. Northwest is one of the best hitting teams we’ve faced so it was a matter of scoring as many as we could and in some cases just barely hanging on. But we did, and that’s all the matters.”

Hitting stars abounded for the Buffs. In Game 1, a 15-0, four-inning run-rule decision over the co-op team of Wichita South/Wichita West, the Buffs’ bats came out swinging. Six runs in the first and nine in the fourth got the game over early.

Manwarren was 2-for-2 with 5 RBIs. Abby Parr went 3-for-4 with 2 runs scored and an RBI; Jesy Foster was 2-for-4 with 2 runs scored and an RBI; McGraw’s one hit was the home run with 2 RBIs. Gutierrez went 2-for-3, 2 runs scored, 1 RBI; Mya Cruz 1-for-2, 2 runs scored 1 RBI; Kamy Foster 2 RBIs and Anjie Serrano 2-for-2, a run scored and an RBI.

Gutierrez pitched the entire four innings to pick up her third win of the season against one loss. She yielded just three hits while striking out three and walking just one. She threw only 55 pitches in the brief outing.

Regional/State Update: Six of the eight-team State Tournament field have been determined. Topeka High (22-0) will be the No. 1 seed. Topeka-Washburn Rural earned its berth with a 20-2 record while the four West Division teams will be finalized when Derby (17-5) faces defending (2019) state champion Lawrence-Free State (19-1) on Friday. That was postponed due to heavy rain in the Lawrence area.

The East Division also has three teams qualified with one left to be determined. Gardner-Edgerton is in at 16-4, Olathe North at 16-6 and Olathe South at 15-6. Blue Valley (17-5) takes on Olathe East (13-9) at 3 p.m. Thursday. Depending on who wins those games, the Lady Buffs will likely be either the fourth or third seeded team. In the state tournament bracket, the top half will have 1 vs. 8 and 4 vs. 5 and in the bottom bracket it will be 2 vs. 7 and 3 vs. 6. The winners meet on May 28 in the semifinals with the championship and consolation games to follow.

Championship

Wichita Northwest (16-5) 103 301 4 -- 12 19 2

Garden City (19-3) 250 124 x -- 14 16 4

Wichita NW--Camdyn Stucky, Aly Lawrence (L) (2), Cayla Stucky (6) and Lopez; GC—Brie Manwarren (W, 16-2) and Anjie Serrano. 2B—GC (Angel Serrano, Jesy Foster). HR—WNW (Ava Mullins, Cayla Stucky, Brailee Bogle 2, Avery Silsby), GC—(Angel Serrano, Rilee McGraw 2). LOB—Wichita Northwest 12, Garden City 6. Pitches—WNW (Camdyn Stucky 48, Aly Lawrence 56, Cayla Stucky 10); GC (Manwarren 134).

Semifinal

Wichita South/Wichita West 000 0 -- 0 3 2

Garden City 600 9 -- 15 13 2

WS/WW—Sydney Nelson (L) and Sariah Stephens; GC—Gisselle Gutierrez (W, 3-1) and Anjie Serrano. 2B—GC (Brie Manwarren). HR—GC (Rilee McGraw). LOB—WN/WS 5; GC—2. Pitches—WN/WS (Nelson 61); GC—Gutierrez 55.

Other Semifinal: Wichita Northwest 13, Junction City 5.