The Augusta softball team was crowned 2019 4A state champions on Saturday after defeating Andale/Garden Plain 5-2 in the state championship game in Salina. The Orioles softball program has a winning tradition, which includes three state titles in the last six years.
Augusta’s second-year head coach Jamie VanDever was on staff for those championships, but this is his first as head coach.
“I coached under the two other coaches who won state championships here, and to have a chance to follow along in that tradition of Augusta softball is very gratifying,” VanDever said.
The Orioles missed the state tournament last season in heart-breaking fashion after giving up a big lead in the regional championship.
“After the way last year ended… to have those seniors go out on a winning note, it’s hard to put into words how meaningful it was for all of us,” VanDever added.
In the championship game, the Orioles were matched up against a team they had faced earlier in the season. The previous meeting between Augusta and Andale/Garden Plain resulted in a split doubleheader as both teams entered the state championship game with one loss.
“We knew that Andale was a great team… When you play a team like that, you know you can’t make mistakes and expect to win. We had an error and gave up a run in the first inning, but overall our defense was good,” VanDever said.
Augusta senior pitcher Gracie Johnston was phenomenal all weekend, dominating the competition in all three contests as she struck out 41 batters in 21 innings and began the state tournament with two shutouts.
“Everybody contributed, and everyone did their part, but Gracie was out front. She was the leader, dominating the whole way,” VanDever said.
In the championship game, Andale scored first on an Augusta error, but the Orioles remained focused and took the lead in the fourth inning. Jadyn Jackson doubled to score Bailey Pennycuff and Morgan Pennycuff. Kourtney Divine followed with a single to score Jackson and give the Orioles a 3-1 lead.
Andale cut the Augusta lead to one in the fifth inning, but the Orioles added two more in the sixth.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Augusta’s Allie Ebenkamp fielded the ball and dove head-first at first base just in time to beat the runner and get the final out.
Augusta senior outfielder Bailey Pennycuff said that the Orioles were not at all surprised with the amount of success they had this season.
“Personally, I was not surprised at all with the amount of success we had. Looking back at my junior season, we had all the potential in the world to win the state title,” Pennycuff said.
“If we would not have won state, many people would have been surprised, maybe even disappointed. Last year was heart-shattering, but this year, we got what we earned.
Collin Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter.com @collinBCTG