HASTINGS, Neb. — After bouts with bad weather the previous two years, conditions for this season’s state tournaments were delightful for all.
This was the 12th tournament hosted by Hastings and, as always, the event was a success. The city embraces it and tournament officials do everything to make it a memorable three days.
Bids are being accepted by the Nebraska School Activities Association to host the 2020 tournament and beyond as the current contract expires after this school year. I don’t have a vote, but if I did, I’d say sign me up for another dozen years in Hastings.
There are only two changes I’d recommend for the Smith Softball Complex, which is peerless in this state. The first would be to make the dugouts on all four fields slightly larger.
The other would be to build up the top of the fences, or add some netting, so that fewer foul balls travel to neighboring fields or land so close to spectators, who might be watching a game on another field. Those foul balls are hostile projectiles, and a little extra protection would be helpful.
Hastings has earned another contract, and there isn’t a facility that can match all the amenities to properly host this event.
Engelkamp joins 500-win club
Last week, I listed the two newest coaches to reach the 500 wins milestone — Rob Sweetland of Wayne and Mark Watt of Lincoln Southwest.
A third, Keith Engelkamp at Omaha Skutt, was close to joining those two and Elkhorn South’s Terry Graver in that club. From the information provided by Engelkamp on his preseason sheets over the years, he was five wins shy of 500 heading into the state tournament.
Then I heard that Skutt players and parents had a celebration for his 500th win after the Oct. 12 district final. When we talked last week, Engelkamp told me one of his assistants had gone back and added up his record.
Turns out that Engelkamp missed seven victories, including four from one of the two state championship runs the SkyHawks had earlier this decade.
That means Engelkamp’s 500th victory came over Bennington in the B-3 subdistrict tournament. The two victories over McCook on Oct. 12 put Engelkamp’s total at 502 heading into state. He’s now at 504 after Skutt picked up a pair of victories in Hastings.
Engelkamp is tied with Watt for third place all time. Sweetland is second with 508 after the Blue Devils won three games Friday to claim the Class B tournament. Dan Hogan, who coached at Omaha Burke and Papillion-La Vista South before retiring last year, is fifth with 441 wins.
Swoboda will be missed
Millard North’s John Swoboda is retiring after 21 seasons. Before taking over the Mustang softball program, Swoboda was a baseball coach for the first half of his 40-year coaching career.
Swoboda retires as the 10th winningest coach in state history. His softball record was 372-257, and he guided the Mustangs to the school’s 500th all-time victory when Millard North defeated Grand Island on Sept. 6 at the Millard North tournament.
John’s honesty and integrity in his assessment of his players and others is something I will sorely miss. Talking things through with him has made my job much easier.
Still hoping I’ll see him in umpire gear next season.
Don’t judge Papio’s Bahl yet
Even during the season, there was a lot of discussion on where Papillion-La Vista’s Jordyn Bahl fits into the list of the best pitchers and all-around players ever in Nebraska.
There have been some excellent pitchers who have gone on to Division I success, including Peaches James, Ashley DeBuhr, Molly Hill, Ashley Hagemann, Kaylan Jablonski and others.
Bahl certainly has made her mark in her first three years with the Monarchs as an essential element on Papio’s two most recent championship teams.
Let’s give Bahl a chance to finish her high school career before having that discussion. She has one more season to play, then it’s off to Oklahoma. There will be plenty of time for the all-time discussions.
All-Nebraska and all-class ballots were emailed to coaches late last week. The deadline for returning them is Oct. 24.
If you’re a coach and didn’t receive one, please email me at email@example.com.
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