Augusta’s softball has played with great motivation and determination all season.
The Orioles, still stinging from their lone loss last year in the state title game, took a big step to avenging that by claiming the Andover Central Class 4A regional championship Tuesday. The Orioles beat El Dorado 15-0 in four innings and topped Central 5-0.
Second-year Oriole coach Shane Steinkamp said the Orioles drew from last year’s experience of being undefeated and knew how to raise its game for the postseason. In fact, the Orioles relish the challenge.
“We came focused and ready to play. We were loose coming in and we knew what it was going to take to win,” he said. “...I think this team likes being in that top seed.”
The Orioles made it clear they were the best team Tuesday. Brooke Eberhardt pitched a shutout against the Wildcats, while Megan Hayes followed that up with a shutout of the Jaguars. The Orioles made several eye-popping defensive plays along the way while committing zero errors in two games.
“It was a team effort. We didn’t have no-hitters, but our defense had our our back,” Eberhardt said.
Against the Jaguars, Casady Marlnee got the Orioles’ scoring started in the first inning. She doubled to score Morgan Kirk, who reached on an infield single.
It was the third inning when the Orioles seized control. Eberhardt and Abby Tipton hit back-to-back singles, Gabi Swartz the drove in a run off an error, and Carley Phillips hit a two-RBI double down the left-field line. Phillips later scored on a wild pitch to give the Orioles a 5-0 lead. All of those plays came with two outs in the inning.
Central’s offense could not get a beat on Hayes. The Jaguars finished with just one hit, a lead-off single in the second inning by McKenzie McKnight, and drew two walks. Hayes finished with two strikeouts and retired the side four times.
“I was glad to be on the mound for the final game. That was pretty awesome,” Hayes said. “...I mostly threw curves. Curves and screwballs.”
Tipton set the tone defensively as she made a brilliant diving catch, then threw out a runner who tagged from second for a double play in the first inning. Marlnee later was able to throw out a runner stealing second from behind the plate. And in the seventh inning, McKnight thought she had her second hit of the game, but Kylie Wesbrooks showed her arm strength by throwing her out from shallow right field.
Taylor Hinnenkamp was an unsung hero of the game. She was a perfect 3-for-3 from the plate. She hit two bunt singles and showed her blazing speed. When Central played for the bunt in the fifth inning, Hinnenkamp slapped the ball right over the infielders’ heads for another base hit.
Kirk finished the game 2-for-4. Four other Orioles had one hit apiece. All in all, Central pitcher Bailey Howarah threw a solid game, especially against a hard-hitting offense like Augusta’s. But two errors and a passed ball in that Oriole third were enough for the game to get out of reach. Becca Schulte still played strong defense for the Jaguars. She had an unassisted double play and made a couple nice snags of grounders for outs.
The Orioles advance to play in the state tournament in Salina starting Thursday, May 29. The Orioles said they have unfinished business to take care of, and they are better prepared this time around.
“I think we’ll be more confident,” Eberhardt said.