HASTINGS, Neb. — Any pressure Papillion-La Vista was feeling Friday to complete the first undefeated softball season in Class A was lifted by its biggest inning of the state tournament.
The No. 1 Monarchs built a 7-0 lead before No. 2 Elkhorn scored twice in the bottom of the fifth inning. So Papio responded by putting pressure on the Antler defense, loading the bases and pounding out eight runs for a 15-2, six-inning victory.
Elkhorn earned its berth in the championship earlier Friday with a 6-0 victory over Gretna in a matchup of former Eastern Midlands Conference rivals. Elkhorn is still in the EMC but Gretna joined the Metro Conference this year.
“We’ve been in a lot of situations, and we’ve played with the lead,” Papillion-La Vista coach Todd Petersen said. “We’re really confident in our defense behind Jordy, as well as our offense. They have a calming way of relying on their teammate, and it’s pretty easy to do when you have a team like this.”
Combine that with another strong performance from Oklahoma commit Jordyn Bahl and eight players pounding out 16 hits, and the Monarchs capped a 36-0 season.
“It’s almost hard to find something that you can do that hasn’t been done,” Petersen said. “We never really talked about that. There was the pressure of that, but I think we just kind of dealt with it. It was a little cherry on top, I guess.”
Defeating Elkhorn also allowed the Monarchs to claim a state- record 15th state championship. They nearly got No. 15 last season, but lost twice to Lincoln Southwest in the finals. The lessons learned that day have fueled Papio.
“It means so much for all of us because, after what happened last year, this was just a statement for us,” Bahl said. “All season, all tournament, and now it feels good that it’s done.
“Last season we were more focused on (being) undefeated. This year, no one hardly talked about it. I think that just shows how we were focused on one game at a time. Like I said earlier, each battle, the whole season was a war.”
Papio is well positioned to win title No. 16 next year, too. The Monarchs graduate just two seniors.
The Monarchs opened the scoring in the second inning.
All-Nebraska catcher Brooke Dumont led off with a single through the right side of the infield, stole second base and scored on a single down the right-field line by first baseman Kaylee Wagner.
A bunt by third baseman Jenna Hoelscher was bobbled by Elkhorn pitcher Sydney Nuismer to put runners at first and second. Left fielder Haley Wilwerding then hit a one-out single to load the bases.
All-Nebraska second baseman Mia Jarecki then laced a two-out single to center field, bringing home Wagner with Papio’s second run. Shortstop Maggie Vasa was hit by a pitch to force home the third run.
Papio added two runs in the third inning, and the action again began with Dumont at the plate.
The junior led off by working Nuismer for a 15-pitch walk and again stole second base. Dumont said she’s never had a 15-pitch at-bat before.
“I had two strikes, so on two strikes I’m supposed to battle the pitches off,” Dumont said. “She just kept throwing me strikes, and it was never the perfect one, so I just kept fouling it off, fouling it off. Then she threw me a ball.”
Wagner stepped in and sent a 0-2 offering from Nuismer over the left-field fence to put the Monarchs ahead 5-0.
Papio put another 2 on the Smith Softball Complex scoreboard in the top of the fourth after opening the inning with two outs. Vasa popped a line drive to single to left and scored two pitches later when Bahl smacked a double to the base of the center field fence.
Sophomore Sydney Kotz entered the game as a courtesy runner for Bahl. Dumont shed her catcher’s gear, stepped into the batter’s box and hit a high fly ball single to right field.
Because she left when Dumont made contact, Kotz was almost home when the ball landed on the grass, and the Monarchs had a 7-0 lead.
“Those girls have been stepping up all year on that kind of stuff,” Petersen said. “So we’ve come to expect things like that.”
Bahl’s bid for her fourth no-hitter of the tournament ended on the first pitch of the fifth inning.
Designated player Sydney Palmer drilled a single to center field, and the Antlers weren’t finished.
Second baseman Payton Cooley singled to right field and Palmer moved to second. Right fielder Megan Garcia the coaxed a walk from Bahl to load the bases.
Leadoff hitter Ella Dalton drove in two runs with a single to right-center field. Bahl then got an infield groundout and strikeout to end the threat.
“We had a little fight in us today and we appreciate our seniors trying to battle through and making our team come through and try to win the game for us,” Elkhorn coach Al Schutte said. “We told them ‘The one thing you have to do is leave it all on the field, it has to be done on the field.’ I think they did that today.”
Papio responded with eight runs in the top of the sixth inning.
Bahl hit a two-run home run after Vasa opened with a double to put Papio up 9-2.
First baseman Jenna Hoelscher singled to left center with two outs and stole second base. Center fielder Kate Voisin drew a walk before Wilwerding reached on an infield error. Hoelscher also scored on the miscue and the Monarchs were ahead 10-2.
Pinch hitter Abigail Wolfe hit a line drive single to left field to drive in Voisin and Wilwerding, giving the Monarchs a 12-2 lead. An infield single by Jarecki moved Wolfe to second. Vasa followed with a three-run home run to left field to put Papio ahead 15-2.
Now the Monarchs have a year to think about the encore. Bahl had some initial thoughts on how that should go.
“Just a different level of hungry,” Bahl said. “You think you’re hungry, but then you don’t know how hungry you are until after last year. You didn’t know you could be that hungry.
“We’re going to remember our sophomore year for sure.”
Papillion-La Vista (36-0)............032 208—15 16 0
Elkhorn (30-5).......................000 020— 2 4 3
W: Jordyn Bahl (27-0). L: Sydney Nuismer (28-5). 2B: PLV, Maggie Vasa, Jordyn Bahl 2. HR: PLV, Vasa, Kaylee Wagner, Bahl.
Elkhorn.....................012 300 0—6 6 0
Gretna (27-10)...........000 000 0—0 5 1
W: Sydney Nuismer (28-4). L: Grace Buffington (16-7). 2B: E, Ella Dalton, Megan Garcia.