HASTINGS — Amber DeFrain’s RBI single in the seventh inning gave Fairbury its first state softball title as the Jeffs edged West Point GACC 6-5 in the Class C final Friday.
The boost that the win gave to the school and community was evident as more people in the crowd were crying than the girls who played the game.
“I think we all just feel so proud at what we accomplished today. This whole season, actually,” sophomore pitcher Jami Mans said. “We all know our roles and just wanted to to anything we could to get to this point.”
While Fairbury has been to the state tournament seven times, its highest finish was runner-up in 2003. The last state title in any sport won by the Jeffs was in boys cross country in 1999. So, after 20 years, the team knew it was their year to win.
“Softball is huge in our community. You can tell by the support that we had here today. The whole tournament. The whole season,” Fairbury coach Taylor Biehl said. “Even after we dropped the first one, we knew it would take a really good team to beat us twice.”
GACC, which finished 28-5, almost did just that. After beating Auburn 3-0 to get to the championship game, the Bluejays forced the second game by holding on for a 7-6 win.
Sophomores Kayla Fischer and Kate Gnad homered in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively, to push the Bluejays to a 7-3 lead.
The Bluejays started where they left off in the deciding game, posting four runs in the third inning as Brenna Rief, Jenna Schinstock and Brynn Baumert singled and scored and Marissa Hunke added the inning’s other run.
But Mans, who considers pitching her main role on the team, opened the fourth inning with a solo home run for the Jeffs, who answered with four runs of their own to tie the game.
Senior shortstop Jaelle Johnson, who was intentionally walked five times in the championship series, lined the first pitch over the fence for another homer in the inning.
“That Johnson kid is such a good hitter and I tried to put pressure on (DeFrain) by putting her on base,” GACC coach Allan Kreikemeier said. “It worked well for us a few times.”
The Bluejays played the championship series without junior third baseman Avery Kreikemeier, who injured her wrist diving for a ball against Auburn Friday morning. Allan Kreikemeier said the team played well despite losing one of the team leaders.
“We had a great run,” he said. “The first game went well and I felt pretty good even going into the bottom of the seventh (in the final game) because our players had such a don’t-quit attitude going. Unfortunately, we just came up short. I am so proud of these girls.”
Hunke scored the Bluejays’ last run in the fifth inning, and Fairbury’s defense held up in the sixth and seventh.
Right-fielder Jordan Tracy came up big with three catches, including one on a deep drive from Gnad for the final out in the sixth.
“You talk about momentum changers — that catch was as big as the home runs,” Biehl said. “It was a game-saver. This is so big for our team, our school, our community. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Fairbury (28-5).....................000 410 1—6 7 3
West Point GACC (29-5).........004 010 0—5 6 2
W: Jami Mans (27-4). L: Brooke Meister (10-2). 2B: F, Mans. HR: F, Mans, Jaelle Johnson.
West Point GACC (29-4)......000 202 3—7 11 2
Fairbury (27-5)..................000 012 3—6 12 2
W: Erin Franzluebbers (14-3). L: Jami Mans (26-4). 2B: F, Josi Mans, Cora DeBoer, Ellie Ohlde. HR: GACC, Kate Gnad, Kayla Fischer; F, Jami Mans.
Auburn (24-8)....................000 000 0—0 2 1
West Point GACC (28-4)......000 003 x—3 5 0
W: Erin Franzluebbers (13-3). L: Kylie Allen (14-6).