HASTINGS, Neb. — Through three state tournament games, the only people Millard South coach Steve Kerkman has had to leave the dugout to speak with have been the umpires.
No extra chats with his players have been needed, certainly not during Thursday’s 9-1, six-inning thumping of Papillion-La Vista in the Class A state softball tournament winner’s bracket game.
“There’s a saying if your team can run itself, things are going well,” Kerkman said. “That’s the way it’s been for us the last three games.”
The way Jordan Johnson is pitching and the Patriots’ potent lineup has been slicing through opposing pitching, Millard South has put itself in the best position possible for its third consecutive Class A championship.
Millard South’s victory over the No. 1-ranked Monarchs — the only team to defeat the Patriots during their 31-3 campaign — put the Patriots in the 2 p.m. title game at the Smith Softball Complex.
Papio and Millard West will play an 11:30 a.m. elimination game for the other championship game berth. The 32-2 Monarchs defeated Millard West 10-2 in Wednesday’s first round, but the Wildcats have won three games since that setback to improve to 18-12.
The first two innings of Thursday’s game were fairly tame with only one hit for each team. After Johnson set the Monarchs down in order in the top of the third, Natalie Wilson gave the Patriots the offensive jolt that ignited a four-run inning.
Hitting from the No. 9 spot, Wilson led off the third with a single. The junior third baseman then stole second base, and a few pitches later swiped third.
Emily Hove then hit an infield grounder toward second base, and the throw came home to try and get Wilson. She beat the throw and Hove was safe at first on the fielder’s choice.
Freshman Rylie Unzicker drew a walk before her senior sister Madi belted the longest home run in the seven years the tournament has been played in Hastings.
Unzicker’s blast landed just a few feet from the permanent fence in left field to give Millard South a 4-0 lead.
“We kind of talked about stepping up in big game situations,” Kerkman said. “I could talk all day about Madi, but we had so many people contribute up and down the lineup.”
Papillion got its only run in the top of the fourth when left fielder Kylie Schwarting led off with a home run to left field. More big hits like that is what Monarchs coach Todd Petersen said his team needed but couldn’t produce.
“We backed down,” Petersen said. “We had lots of opportunities with runners on and we didn’t get big hits. We’ve been able to get the big hits all year, but we had opportunities early and we weren’t aggressive.”
Not to be outdone by her big sister, Rylie Unzicker chipped in with her own solo home run to lead off the fifth inning. Left fielder Leah Kalkwarf added a two-run blast that brought home Madi Unzicker, who doubled to right after her sister’s homer.
Hove ended the game one inning early with a homer to left that also scored Wilson, who led off the sixth with a walk.
“Everyone was just really dialed in the whole way through,” Kerkman said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Papillion-La Vista (32-2) ............................ 000 100—1 5 1
Millard South (31-3) ............................ 004 032—9 10 2
W-Jordan Johnson. L-Julia Andersen. 2B-MS, Madi Unzicker. HR-PLV, Kylie Schwarting; MS, Madi Unzicker, Rylie Unzicker, Leah Kalkwarf, Emily Hove.
Millard West 10, Grand Island 2 (6 innings)
Emily Truitt’s third hit of the game was a two-run double that put the Wildcats ahead 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning. That started a stretch of eight straight runs over the next two innings that ended the game after six innings. Emily Klosterman had two doubles and winning pitcher Kristen Van Hoosen also had a double.