SALINA—They looked like they were going to do it again.
All year, Augusta’s softball team had risen to every challenge it faced on way to an undefeated season. Against DeSoto in the state championship game Friday, the Orioles were at it again. Down by three runs in the bottom of the seventh, they loaded the bases with no outs as the finish to the game had all the makings, moments and performances a state title game demands.
“We were ready to come back,” a choked up Jenna Lynch said.
But this time, there were no smiles at the end of the rally. The Augusta crowd that had started a raucous was quieted. The clanging of the fence by the Orioles in the dugout went silent. Desoto’s ace Sophia Templin collected herself and threw two strikeouts and got a final pop up to seal the Orioles’ fate. After the final out, the Wildcats screamed with joy and sprinted onto the field to celebrate as they won the Class 4A softball state championship 7-4.
“It’s what we’ve done all year long. We’ve put ourselves in position to win every game, and we had up to this point,” coach Shane Steinkamp of the rally falling short.
DeSoto’s win handed Augusta its first loss of the season and spoiled the Orioles’ bid for a perfect year capped by a state championship. Incredibly enough, DeSoto also knocked off top-seeded Paolo, which also entered the tournament undefeated, in the semifinal round.
After the loss, the Orioles left the field teary-eyed with a heavy weight of disappointment, a feeling they hadn’t had all year. There weren’t a lot of consoling words that would’ve meant a lot, but Steinkamp, in his first year with the team, gave it his best shot as he gathered with the team one last time.
“Second place sucks, we know that,” Steinkamp said he told the Orioles. “Nobody came up here to be second place, but be proud of what we did. I’ve pushed this team harder than I’ve pushed any team in my career....23-1? There’s nothing to shake their head about.”
The Orioles found themselves trying to catch up all game. DeSoto’s Lauren Mabe hit a solo home run to get the Wildcats going. Templin, who has signed to play for KU next year, took control early with nasty off-speed pitches of the curve and change-up variety as she struck out four Orioles and only gave up two hits through three innings.
DeSoto built up its lead by beating Augusta at its own game of the long ball. The Wildcats hit a two-run home run in the second for a 3-0 lead and another solo shot in the fifth inning. Augusta had one of the most prolific seasons in team history with home runs.
Augusta finally started adjusting at the plate the way it had all season midway through the fourth inning. Katy Nordman doubled, then scored on a base knock by Casady Marlnee to get Augusta on the scoreboard.
“We were looking at too many pitches. We were trying to guess at what she was throwing,” Steinkamp said. “And she was getting ahead of us. We needed to attack early, and that’s when we started doing things.”
Abby Tipton nearly drove in another run, but, with a bit of misfortune, the ball bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double, keeping pinch runner Kylie Wesbrooks at third instead of scoring.
DeSoto kept on the pressure by answering anything the Orioles threw at them, which, more than anything, didn’t allow the Orioles to get on the roll they were used to.
“It gets you in the long run. We didn’t have that vibe in the dugout,” senior Destiny Williams said.
Down 5-1, senior Kalie Robinson breathed new life to the game. With Courtney Phillips and Morgan Kirk on base, Robinson blasted a three-run bomb to dead center and was greeted at the plate by her suddenly energetic teammates.
“It sparked the entire team. This entire team looked to that, and that senior, Kalie Robinson, has been there for us all year,” Steinkamp said of the home run.
Megan Hayes, who came in relief on the mound with no outs in the third, started slowing down DeSoto’s offense, who had just two hits and struck out twice through the next four innings.
“Megan Hayes kept us in it,” Steinkamp said.
DeSoto got a crucial two-RBI base hit in the seventh that blooped into the right-center field gap to push its lead back to three, then held off Augusta’s furious rally in the bottom of the inning.
Steinkamp said he didn’t want the one loss to define their season, which included a team record for the longest winning streak.
“Phenomenal. Just a phenomenal season,” Steinkamp said. “From February 25 to now, the work ethic we had was great. We kept working.”
It was a more bitter-than-sweet ending for the seniors, who embraced a new coach and new style and rode that exciting streak that came one win short.
“It’s amazing. I’ve learned life lessons from it,” Robinson said of the season.
“Shane’s a great guy. I don’t think we would’ve been anywhere without him as our coach,” Phillips said.