The Andover Central softball team has faced many hurdles this season, but the Jaguars showed resiliency as they battled through the postseason to earn the 4A-I state title on Saturday morning.
Central knocked off the previously unbeaten No. 1 seed Independence by a score of 5-4 in the state championship game.
The state tile is the second for Andover Central head coach Rita Frakes, who has been with the program for 13 seasons.
In April 2017, Frakes was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Current and former players rallied around her and showed her support as she battled the disease. Several of her former players even planned a fundraiser to help raise funds for treatment.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell you exactly how much I love my kids, my staff, and the community of Andover for all the things they did for me,” said Frakes.
After surgery in June, followed by months of chemotherapy, Frakes is now cancer-free.
Before the season began, the Central administration also stepped up and hired another coach to assist Rita once she returned to the softball field.
“My administration knew I had some physical limitations because of a surgery I had,” said Frakes.
“Mr. (Doug) Carr and the Central office talked about it, and they hired a coach to help me… Not very many people would spend that extra money to do that so I could stay on the field.”
Andover Central finished the regular season with a record of 9-9.
At one point in the season, the Jaguars looked like a team that was incapable of even making the state tournament, much less winning the whole thing.
“We kind of had a mental breakdown for about a week and a half,” said Frakes.
“We played probably the worst ball of our lives. The seniors got everyone together and told them something had to change. From that point on it seemed like we turned a corner and we started winning again.”
Andover Central embraced their underdog role from the beginning of the regional tournament. The Jaguars entered their four-team regional as the No. 3 seed. In the first-round, Central had no trouble with Circle, winning 15-1.
In the regional championship game, the Jaguars knocked off Augusta, who came into the tournament with one loss on the season. Both teams battled back and forth in the heavyweight bout, but Central came out on top, earning a trip to the state tournament. The Jaguars celebrated the win, but they weren’t satisfied with a trip to the state tournament. They believed they could win the whole thing.
Andover Central entered the state tournament as the No. 7 seed. After a 12-inning first-round contest that lasted almost three hours, Central was able to defeat Piper and advance to the semifinals.
In the semifinals, Central trailed 4-1 before scoring 7 unanswered runs to win 8-4.
“I wondered if they were going to get rattled after when we got down 4-1, but our kids just wouldn’t quit,” said Frakes.
Following the semifinal game, the Jaguars did not get back to Andover until after 1 a.m. With less than six hours of sleep, the Jaguars loaded up the bus and headed back to emporia on Saturday morning to take on undefeated Independence in the championship game.
Independence scored first, taking a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Central answered in the fifth, when Maura Flahive hit a sacrifice fly to score Kalei Cline from third and tie the game at 1.
The game remained tied until the Jaguars finally found some life in the top of the eighth. Jordyn Maddex singled to score Brooklyn Strobel to give Central their first lead of the game. After Lauren Wolf drew a walk, Kalei Cline crushed a three-run home run to give Central a commanding 5-1 lead.
Independence made things interesting in the bottom of the inning, cutting Central’s lead to one before Central was able to get the final out and celebrate their state championship.
“It was an amazing feeling,” said Frakes.
“I had some pretty determined seniors that just wouldn’t give up.”