HASTINGS, Neb. — The last time Fairbury was this close to a state softball championship, its seniors were still learning how to walk.
Fairbury lost to Wayne 5-2 in the championship game of the 2003 Class C state tournament. The No. 1-ranked Jeffs have their best chance to win a state softball title in 16 years after defeating No. 3 West Point GACC 8-4 Thursday in a Class C winners bracket game.
The Jeffs (27-4) will play the winner of Friday’s 11:30 a.m. elimination game between GACC and Auburn in the 2 p.m. title game. Auburn survived a run through the elimination bracket by defeating Hastings St. Cecilia, Cozad and Malcolm.
Arlington and Kearney Catholic also were eliminated on Thursday as the field was narrowed from eight teams to three. Fairbury coach Taylor Biehl said Friday is the day the Jeffs have been aiming for since the end of the 2018 season.
“We’re so excited to be in the championship,” Biehl said. “We knew this was a huge game. If we see them again tomorrow, hopefully we’ll be a little more relaxed.”
Both Fairbury and the Bluejays scored one run in the first inning before GACC took a 3-1 lead after three innings. The Jeffs responded with four runs in the top of the fourth.
Fairbury’s cause was aided by a pair of errors after GACC pitcher Erin Franzluebbers got the second out of the inning with one of her 11 strikeouts. An infield error allowed Raven DeFrain to score after she singled to left field to start the inning, bringing the Jeffs to within 3-2.
A single to center by Brittyn Wentz brought home Ellie Oldhe, who got on base with a one-out single to right field. A second error by the Bluejays on a fly ball to right by Fairbury pitcher Jami Mans brought home Claire Shumard and Wentz with the two runs that gave the Jeffs the lead for good.
After hitting four home runs in each of the two victories Wednesday, Biehl was pleasantly surprised that the Jeffs were able to scratch out so many runs with singles as they took advantage of three GACC errors.
Biehl said much of the credit for Fairbury not being able to hit the ball out of the park goes to Franzluebbers in how she attacked the strike zone.
“She did a nice job of shutting down a few of our big hitters a little bit at times,” Biehl said. “We had 10 hits, (but) it didn’t feel like 10 hits to me. Maybe it’s because we didn’t hit any home runs. We’re kind of used to hitting a few, but she did a really nice job of pitching against us.”
Fairbury added three runs in the top of the sixth, with two of those runs coming on another error. Shortstop Jaelle Johnson brought home the Jeffs’ final run with a single to right field.
Johnson said the Jeffs are looking forward to playing in the championship game.
“It feels so great,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of big goals, and we always set our standards high. It’s so close now.”
Fairbury (27-4)..................100 403 0—8 11 4
West Point GACC (27-4).......102 000 1—4 8 3
W: Jami Mans (26-3). L: Erin Franzluebbers (12-3). 2B: F, Jaelle Johnson. 3B: GACC, Kayla Fischer.
Auburn (24-7).............000 750 4—16 16 4
Malcolm (22-12)..........104 312 0—11 16 3
W: Kylie Allen (14-5). L: Anna Schroeder. 2B: A, Melody Billings 2, Allen, Macy Rieschick. HR: A, Madison Reiman; M, Taylor Glause, Cora Schweitzer, Jordym Virus, Hailey Wessel.
Malcolm (22-11).........200 120 02—7 11 3
Arlington (22-8)..........000 311 01—6 6 4
W: Hailey Wessel. L: Sarah Theiler (18-8). 2B: M, Anna Schroeder 2; A, Abby Stromer. 3B: M, Schroeder. HR: M, Taylor Glause.
Auburn (23-7)........530 035—16 14 0
Cozad (24-9)..........000 401— 5 5 5
W: Kylie Allen (13-5). L: Reagan Armagost (18-6). 2B: A, Jaeleigh Heck, Madison Reiman. 3B: A, Heck; C, Armagost. HR: A, Heck; C, Cargill.
Auburn (22-7).........................003 23—8 7 1
Hastings St. Cecilia (25-9)........000 00—0 2 2
W: Kylie Allen (12-5). L: Natalie Kissinger (21-8). 2B: A, Leah Grant 2.
Kearney Catholic (23-9)...........222 00— 6 6 5
Malcolm (21-11)......................185 1x—15 9 1
W: Emma Brown. L: Baylie Luedke (15-5). 2B: KC, Elsie Hastings, Carleigh Eurek; M, Taylor Glause, Elsia Paider. 3B: M, Jordyn Virus. HR: KC, Eurek; M, Mikayla DeBaets, Hailey Wessel.