HASTINGS, Neb. — Wayne has spent numerous seasons bouncing between Classes B and C, depending on enrollment numbers.
The Blue Devils have won three Class C state titles, including the 2018 championship with an undefeated season. After winning three games Friday in the Class B state tournament, the Blue Devils now have championship trophies in both classes.
Wayne first defeated Seward 9-1 in six innings in an elimination game at the Smith Softball Complex before twice defeating No. 2 Beatrice in the championship round to cap a 35-4 campaign.
After posting a 6-1 win in the first game, the Blue Devils took a 2-0 lead in the championship before Beatrice rallied to take a 3-2 lead. One swing of the bat in the top of the seventh by Wayne pitcher Tori Kniesche turned that deficit into a 5-3 victory.
Kniesche was the star that made the Blue Devils shine brightest in the state’s most balanced class. When Wayne got bumped up to Class B for this season, Blue Devils coach Rob Sweetland wasn’t sure how things would work out.
“If you look at our first practice compared to Skutt or Beatrice or Hastings or Crete, you’d be like, ‘There’s no way we can compete with these teams,’ ” Sweetland said. “But they just kept getting better, and I knew we had a Class B pitcher that could keep us in games.”
Those doubts crept in to Kniesche’s mind after Wayne’s exhibition game in mid-August.
“We worked hard from the beginning of the season,” Kniesche said. “This is the most improved team I’ve ever played with. It’s just been an awesome time playing with every single one of my teammates.
“At the start of this year, we had a scrimmage against Norfolk, and we lost. So we came all the way from that scrimmage to this finish.”
Kniesche’s home run in the top of the seventh produced the winning runs. With Blue Devils on first and second base, Beatrice coach Gary Lytle had the option to intentionally walk Kniesche to load the bases and have Lady Orange ace Addison Barnard face Kayla Fleming.
Lytle said there were too many variables to intentionally load the bases.
“First and second, if we walk her, we have the tying run at third,” Lytle said. “The next two girls behind her had put the ball in play a little bit. Squeeze play comes into play then. I really don’t like the intentional walk and not having to pitch to them.”
Lytle said he also had faith in Barnard, and the pitch Kniesche hit wasn’t an ideal home run pitch.
“She a threw a pitch there that wasn’t a really hittable ball,” Lytle said. “Tori just went down and got it and did a good just. Great players make great plays.”
Kniesche admitted she was surprised she got the chance to face Barnard one final time, especially since she already had four home runs Friday. The first was against Seward in the elimination game, then two against Beatrice in the first game.
The fourth came in the first inning of the championship game, a blast to center field that put Wayne ahead 2-0.
“I was surprised. I’m not going to lie, I was,” Kniesche said. “When I first got a strike I was like, ‘Yup, this is mine.’ I wanted it to be my last senior-year hit. It was toward my knee outside. I don’t know how I hit it, to be honest.
“My momentum took me, and I wanted to fight. I dug down and I found it, and I just nailed it.”
Kniesche and the Wayne defense still had to get Beatrice out in the bottom of the seventh.
Morgan Mahoney opened the inning by reaching on an error, then Sweetland elected to intentionally walk Barnard.
“The shoe is on the other foot,” Sweetland said. “It’s like I’ve got the career state home run leader, I’m not just going to give her that chance. Tori was that kind of player today for us. She made them pay. You can pitch to them, and they still have to hit it. And she hit it.
“A lot of the game is playing the percentages anymore. They worked out in our favor.”
That’s because a bunt attempt by Whitney Schwisow turned into a double play as Kniesche caught the ball then doubled Barnard off at first base.
Following a walk to Olivia Aden, Hannah Lytle popped out to Wayne first baseman Amara Hurlbert in foul territory for the final out that secured Wayne it’s fourth state softball championship.
Wayne (35-4) 200 000 3—5 6 2
Beatrice (32-6) 001 110 0—3 5 1
W: Tori Kniesche (30-3). L: Addison Barnard (18-6). 2B: B, Carley Leners. HR: W, Kniesche (2).
Beatrice (32-5) 100 000 0—1 2 0
Wayne (34-4) 201 300 x—6 8 0
W: Tori Kniesche (29-3). L: Addison Barnard (18-5). 2B: W, Kayla Fleming. HR: B, Barnard; W, Kniesche (2), Kendall Dorey.
Seward (23-15) 100 000—1 3 4
Wayne (33-4) 004 032—9 8 2
W: Tori Kniesche (28-3). L: Sydney Parra (20-15). 2B: S, Jordan Battaglia. 3B: W, Aliah Schulz. HR: Kniesche.