Augusta and Circle softball split doubleheader, league title

Both teams finish 8-2 in the AVCTL-III and will split the league title due tiebreakers.

Lionel Tipton
softball photo

AUGUSTA, Kansas—Circle traveled to Augusta on Thursday with the AVCTL Division III softball title at stake, and after 16 innings and more than 4½ hours, the teams had decided … absolutely nothing.

“We’re both sitting at the top, and we’re going to stay at the top,” Augusta coach Rhett Mallon said. “(Circle) really turned it on in the back half of this season. Our girls, we started hot but we’ve struggled as of late, but we’re starting to get some of our injuries fixed, and we’re going to get back together (as a) full team and really be a force by the end of the season.”

The Orioles broke a 4-4 deadlock with a run in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 5-4 walkoff victory in the first game. 

But on Augusta’s Senior Night, the Thunderbirds got key contributions from some of their juniors and sophomores, taking an early 5-1 lead and holding on for a 7-5 triumph and a split of the doubleheader.

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“I do feel the teams are playing about the same right now, and we had two good softball games (Thursday night),” Mallon said. “We could go anywhere from zeroes to heroes in a hurry. We’re that good, and there’s no reason we can’t end up on top by the end of it.

“We’re going to have to limit our mistakes and capitalize when we get those chances. I think we’re right there; we’ve just got to make it happen.

This makes Augusta and Circle league co-champions at 8-2, as neither has any games left against Division III teams. 

“We both finished 8-2 in the league,” Circle coach Les Zoch said. “Not exactly what we wanted, but (Augusta’s) Morgan (Pennycuff) pitched a really well the first game. We couldn’t hit her, because we couldn’t lay off stuff above our belt. That was something that we worked on in practice all week. Lay off the high stuff, (but) we couldn’t do it.”

In that game, the Senior Night theme was on full display as Pennycuff stifled Circle on just four hits, all singles. She also struck out 16, pitching all nine innings. 

She received more than ample support off the bat of fellow senior Jadyn Jackson, who hit a three-run homer in the first and a solo homer in the sixth, driving in four of the Orioles’ five runs.

“(Circle starter Dylan Erdwien) was a faster pitcher than we’ve seen most of the season,” said Jackson, whose brother Jaren – who starred in baseball at Augusta – plays for Butler Community College. “I think I always do better when (the ball) is quicker out of the hands, and I just squared up some good balls (Thursday night).

“We’ve had a fun four years together, and we’re kind of sad to see it end, but we’re excited for regionals and hopefully going back to state.”

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Jackson will be hitting a larger ball next year, as she has a volleyball scholarship to Pittsburg State.

Circle forced the extra innings when Hailee Schropp slashed a one-out single to left. With two down, Isabel Patty’s popup dropped between three confused Augusta players. Meanwhile, Schropp hustled all the way from first and scored the tying run.

“It was a very competitive first game,” Zoch said. “We still came out and played. They hit us well. We made some great defensive plays that first game.”

Pennycuff and Erdwien waged a battle of their own. Pennycuff was masterful in silencing the T-Birds’ attack. 

“We couldn’t hit Morgan to save our lives,” Zoch said. 

Mallon said, “Morgan’s solid. You don’t get many like her come through very often. We had to get her back in (the second) game. She kept us within striking distance (but) we couldn’t get that strike we needed. Morgan was special.”

And Erdwien stayed right there with her, even if it meant narrowly escaping a number of Augusta scoring threats. 

“We were able to push across some runs and keep it competitive,” Zoch said. “It went nine innings. It was like nobody wanted to win that game.”

The game finally ended in the ninth when Payton Haskell led off with a single, senior Ivory Rightnar sacrificed her to second, and she came in Keelyn Barnett’s double, a hard shot to left field.

In the second game, the Thunderbirds came out with their bats more effective than in Game One, scoring five runs on five hits in the first three innings and forcing Pennycuff to again retake the mound to stop the bleeding.

She managed to slow down Circle, surrendering two runs and five hits in four innings of work. She also recorded three more strikeouts in that time, giving her 19 on the day.

“That second game came down to who wanted it more,” Zoch said. “We kind of let them back in.”

Senior Reagan Strecker started for Circle and left after four innings with a 5-5 tie. The Thunderbirds managed to get the lead in the next inning, making Strecker the pitcher of record.

Lucy Haller – who won’t see her Senior Night for a couple more years – relieved Strecker and shut out Augusta on four hits in the next three innings for the save. She had to twice escape jams in the sixth and seventh innings, stopping the Orioles with the tying runs aboard in each inning.

“My team backed me up, made me feel comfortable out there, so that’s what’s important,” Haller said.

This somewhat surprised her coach, who afterward marveled at the control she displayed.

“Lucy came in and threw well,” Zoch said. “This is the first time she has pitched that she hasn’t drilled somebody. She had hit one person every game.”

Offensively, Circle got a huge effort from Haller’s sophomore classmates. Schropp and Erdwien each had two RBI, and Adie White had an RBI and scored twice. Schropp had a two-run single in the second, and Erdwien boomed a two-run double in the third. Not to be outdone, seniors Ashley Gilmartin and Lexi Bodkin had two hits apiece among the T-Birds’ total of 10.

 “Dylan hit the ball hard; Hailee hit the ball hard,” Zoch said. “Lexi Bodkin had a good hit. We all hit the ball well that second game.”

Junior Kate Tandy said, “We really focused, because we really wanted this win. It was a team effort. Everyone just played the best defense; our defense was on.”

Gracie Perez and Jackson paced Augusta’s 10-hit attack in the nightcap with three and two hits, respectively. 

In the end, both teams were ecstatic yet frustrated, but each made certain to praise their respective worthy adversary.

“I tip my hat to Circle,” Mallon said. “They played a good game, good call from whoever is calling the pitches. They called the right pitches at the right time (and) kept us from getting those baserunners home. Just two well-played softball games.”

“They’re a solid program and a solid team,” Zoch said. “I’m OK splitting (the league title) with them.”

Both teams will close the regular season with games Monday outside the division. Augusta will travel to Wellington, and Circle will play host to Clearwater.