The Augusta softball team scratched and clawed until the end of their regional championship game on Wednesday night. The Orioles survived and punched their ticket tot he 4A state tournament in Salina with a 2-1 victory over Topeka-Hayden.
Low-scoring games are not something the Orioles are used to, as they averaged 11 runs per game heading into the regional championship. However, the Orioles stepped up on defense and found a way to survive and advance.
Gracie Johnston, the Orioles’ star senior pitcher, continued her stellar season with another dominant performance. Johnston gave up three hits and one run and struck out 12 batters.
“I’m beyond happy. So many emotions are coming with it, but I’m just so proud of the team. We played awesome tonight,” Johnston said.
“They made all the plays behind me. Sophie [Johnston] did an amazing job behind the plate. I’m so grateful for my whole team. Everyone did great tonight.”
In the semifinal, Morgan Pennycuff pitched a no-hitter as the Orioles defeated Ulysses 15-0 in 5 innings.
In the regional final, the Hayden defense was able to keep things interesting for the entire contest.
The Oriole bats started off hot in the first inning, but two Augusta baserunners were picked off while trying to steal.
In the bottom of the third inning, the Orioles were able to take the lead. Martinique Merz led off the inning with a base hit. Cheyenne Pohlman laid down a bunt which allowed Merz to advance to second. Bailey Pennycuff put the ball in play and a Hayden error allowed Merz to score the first run of the game.
In the top of the fourth inning, Hayden was able to put baserunners on second and third with no outs. Gracie Johnston was not phased and proceeded to get two quick strikeouts and a pop fly to end the inning.
Hayden tied the game in the top of the fifth with a sacrifice bunt. Augusta quickly reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning thanks to a Hayden error with the bases loaded.
In the final inning, the Orioles led 2-1 and were three outs away from a state tournament appearance.
“The last inning I just tried to calm myself and kept telling myself ‘just a couple more outs’”, Johnston said.
Johnston went to work, striking out the first two batters. The next Hayden batter hit a ground ball to Kourtney Divine, who fielded the ball and threw to first as the Orioles began to celebrate.
Martinique Merz and Morgan Pennycuff led the Orioles at the plate with two hits each.
With a record of 21-1 heading into the 4A state tournament, the Orioles are tied with Andale/Garden Plain for the best record heading into the tournament. The 4A state tournament will take place at Bille Burke Park in Salina on May 23-24.