ALAMOSA, Colo. – The Western Nebraska Community College softball team fought to the bitter end with an impressive run at the Region IX softball tournament in Alamosa, Colorado, Monday.
In the end, the Cougars ran out of gas after upending McCook Community College 16-11 before falling to Trinidad State Junior College 11-7 to finish the tournament with a 3-2 record.
What is impressive about what this year’s team accomplished at the end of the season is they played with nine players for the last month and a half and battled through injuries to close out the season in thundering fashion.
WNCC head coach Katie Groves couldn’t be more proud of the way her team played at regionals.
“As a coach I couldn’t be more proud of a group of girls because of what they were capable of doing and what they ended up doing,” Groves said. “They started off the year a little beat up and broken up and throughout the year they faced a ton of adversity and never quit, never gave up on themselves or each other. And, this group of young ladies, came out much better people and ball players and I never could be more proud of a group as a coach.”
The Cougars finished the season at 13-21, but it was how they finished that had Coach Groves excited for next year.
“The girls found a way to take third in the region and it all came down to their pure believe in themselves in what they were capable of doing,” she said. “Being able to watch them grow through the season, all the bumps in the road led them to be able to do it. Unfortunately, we came up a little short in that last game, but these girls deserve all the credit of what they are capable of doing.”
Bailey Blanchard, who had a big home run in the win against McCook, said she, too, couldn’t be prouder of her teammates.
“I am extremely proud of my teammates,” Blanchard said. “We went into this weekend as the team that other teams were hoping to get. We quickly made them regret that through. Not once during this season did anyone who was a part of our program doubt us. We fought to the very end and did not give up a single time. None of the girls took even a single day off. We faced multiple injuries and setbacks, but no one let that affect them. We push through as a team and we played our hearts out as a team, and we played our hearts out as a team. I couldn’t be more proud of the girls that I have played with this season.”
Mackenzie Bakel, who was the only returning player from a year ago, was also pleased with how this team stay connected and finished off the season on a high note.
“To say I’m proud is an understatement. We have fought through so much as a team and to finish third was one of my favorite memories of my career,” Bakel said. “This team always had the talent but with our backs against the wall and a huge target on our backs, we persevered and showed everyone what we knew we could do.”
The team persevered over the weekend and it was definitely a team effort as one through nine in the lineup came up big at the plate and in the field.
“The bottom of our lineup came up huge throughout the day. Erin Hanafin had herself a day finding ways to score us runs and get innings started,” Groves said. “Bree Henson scored some runs in games this weekend that were clutch situations. Everybody, one through nine, found ways to get things done even with one arm and swinging a bat. You have to be super proud of what these kids did.”
Bakel and Hanafin both said this team played as one.
“The key of our performance at regionals was playing for each other,” she said. “We found a way to pass the bat down the lineup. We fought for each other and that’s what carried us through.”
Hanafin said this team won because of their hearts.
“Our hearts were what made this weekend become successful,” she said. “Everyone did their part, whether that is passing the bat and getting on base or making fielding plays to help our pitchers out. We all worked together. I am so proud with how everyone did with how little of a team we have. I believe we really surprised a lot of people out there.”
WNCC started Monday with an offensive showcase against McCook. WNCC seven runs in the seventh inning to capture the win.
WNCC started the game as Bella Coffman doubled home Emma Schweitzer for the 1-0 lead. McCook came back with three in the first for the 3-1 lead. WNCC answered in the second with two runs to knot the score at 3-3.
The second saw Bakel earn a walk and Briana Henson get a single. Bakel scored on a Schweitzer single and Blanchard delivered a sacrifice fly to score Henson.
WNCC added three more in the fourth to grab a 6-3 lead. All three runs came with two outs. Henson started the offense with a double followed by Schweitzer getting a run-scoring double. Blanchard followed with a 2-run home run.
McCook added one in the bottom of the fourth to slice the lead to 6-4, but WNCC put up another 3-spot in the fifth for a 9-4 lead. Hanafin started things with a triple followed by a Bakel single that score Hanafin. Chloe Cronquist followed with a run-scoring triple. Schweitzer also got into the triple hitting routine as she tripled to right field to score Cronquist for the 9-4 lead.
McCook’s high-powered offense was finished yet. The Indians scored two in the fifth to cut the lead to 9-6 and then grabbed an 11-9 lead with five runs in the sixth.
WNCC kept fighting as they plated seven runs in the seventh. The final inning started as Hanafin doubled. Hanafin scored on a Cronquist double to slice the deficit to 11-10. Henson followed with a single and then Schweitzer walked to load the bases. Blanchard scored one with a fielder’s choice hit to tie the game and then Lexi Butterfield singled to score Henson with the go-ahead run.
WNCC wasn’t through. Coffman ripped a triple to score three for a 15-11 lead and Coffman would come in to score on a Hanafin hit for the 16-11 lead.
WNCC finished the game with 17 hits, including Coffman, Cronquist, Hanafin, and Schweitzer each finishing with a double and triple. Schweitzer was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle, finishing with three hits, three RBIs, and three runs. She also was walked twice.
Henson also had three hits in the contest from her ninth batting spot in the lineup. Henson had a double with three runs scored.
Butterfield had two hits with a run scored and RBI, while Coffman had two hits with that double and triple along with four RBIs. Hanafin and Cronquist each had two hits. Hanafin scored two runs while Cronquist had two runs scored and two RBIs.
Blanchard had a home run with four RBIs and two runs scores.
Chayden Chon picked up the win, going 1 2/3 innings in relief, allowing just one hit. Butterfield went 5 1/3 innings and also pitched well in striking out three and scattering 13 hits and giving up 11 runs.
The second game with Trinidad State started out as if it was going to be a offensive showcase. Both teams combined for 29 hits in the contest and 12 runs in the first inning.
WNCC’s first was a continuation of what they did in the win against McCook. Schweitzer started things off with a single and Blanchard followed by reaching on an error. Butterfield then put the Cougars up 3-0 with a 3-run home run over the left-field fence.
WNCC was finished as Chong followed with a single. Hanafin then scores Chong on a fly ball that is misplayed in the outfield and Hanafin scores on the same error for a 5-0 lead. Cronquist followed with a single and scored on a fielder’s choice hit by Henson for the 6-0 lead.
Trinidad tied the game with six runs of their own in the first on seven hits. After that the Cougars and Trinidad settled in and played well. The Trojans took a 7-6 lead with a single run in the second and added three more in the fourth for a 10-6 lead.
WNCC added a run in the sixth to cut the lead to 10-7 as Blanchard singles and scores on a Butterfield double.
WNCC had 12 hits in the contest. Butterfield led the way with three hits including a double and home run. She also had four RBIs and a run scored. Chong, Bakel, and Cronquist all finished with two hits.
Trinidad will face Northeastern Junior College Tuesday in the championship game. Trinidad will need to beat NJC twice to win the regional title. The winner of regionals will face the Kansas regional winner in a district final contest.
WNCC will return many of the same girls that are on this year’s team and Bakel said what they did at regionals this year is a big stepping stone for next season.
“This was a huge building block for next year,” Bakel said. “Taking third, when no one believed we would have, shows that we are a threat and that there is a reason to fear us next season.”
Bakel and Schweitzer were also named to the All-region team that was announced on Sunday. Schweitzer was an all-region catcher while Bakel was on the outfield. Bakel said it means a lot to be on the team because it is voted on by the other coaches. She said she wouldn’t be on the team without the help of her team.
“To be on the all-region team means that I did what I needed to for my team,” she said. “My performance was acknowledged from the other coaches in the region which is something to be proud of but without my team, I wouldn’t have accomplished all-region.”
WNCC 120 330 7 – 16 17 2
McCook 300 125 0 – 11 14 1
WP – Chayden Chong.
2B – Bella Coffman, Chloe Cronquist, Erin Hanafin, Briana Henson, Emma Schweitzer.
3B – Bella Coffman, Chloe Cronquist, Erin Hanafin, Emma Schweitzer
HR – Bailey Blanchard.
WNCC 600 001 0 – 7 12 0
Trinidad 610 301 x – 11 17 4
LP – Lexi Butterfield.
2B – Lexi Butterfield.
HR – Lexi Butterfield.