By Sean Frye
Four runs sparked by No. 10 Labette’s kryptonite, defensive miscues, in the seventh inning of Game 1 allowed No. 7 Highland to secure the KJCCC title on Sunday.
Labette entered Sunday’s de facto championship series needing to sweep Highland while the Scotties just needed a split. A split is what happened as Highland won the first game 9-5 before a walk-off home run from Labette third baseman Chloee Sams gave the Cardinals a 4-3 win in Game 2.
The Cardinals faced multiple deficits in Game 1, at one point trailing 4-1, before eventually tying the game in the bottom of the sixth off a two-run home run from Winter Snyder.
However, the Scotties pushed four runs across in the next frame to ultimately clip the Cardinals’ late takeoff.
“They hit a couple of hard balls, but that was after we made a couple of mistakes,” Labette head coach Ryan Phillips said. “We should’ve been out of that inning with, at worst, a one-run deficit if we just played defense. Those are plays we’ve made all year. The fact that we let two, three mistakes happen is the issue.”
Jadeyn Wyrick was charged with the loss in the circle for Labette in Game 1, giving up 14 hits and nine runs but just five earned runs. Highland pitcher Lilli Weir got the victory, striking out 14 Labette batters while surrendering nine hits and four earned runs.
“It’s a tough one to lose,” Phillips said. “Highland is a pretty dang good club. If you make one mistake, they’re going to capitalize. If you make multiple mistakes, they’re going to make it hurt a lot. And that’s what happened.”
That win for Highland secured its conference title, but the Cardinals still needed a win in Game 2 to lock up the No. 2 seed in the postseason.
It was evident early on that the atmosphere in both dugouts had deflated after a rowdy first tilt.
“If you watched Game 2 on both sides of the field for both teams, you could tell the energy was spent in Game 1,” Phillips said. “The overall attitude to the game wasn’t great on both sides. Both teams put everything out there to win Game 1 and drained ourselves.”
Sams’ walk-off solo blast in the bottom of the seventh with two outs ultimately clinched Labette’s second-place finish in the KJCCC.
Sams was perhaps the most consistent batter of the day for the Cardinals, notching five hits on a chilly afternoon.
“Chloee overall had a good day,” Phillips said. “She had good swings. There was maybe one at-bat without a great approach. But she was on-time and had good swings on every pitch. We have her in that position to basically reignite our lineup.”
Katelyn Kotlarz punched out 12 batters in a winning effort in the circle for Labette in Game 2.
Labette finished the regular season with a 32-14 overall record, the most wins since 2015 for the school, and a 23-5 mark in KJCCC play. Highland wrapped with a 41-7 and 26-4 record, respectively.
Highland will travel to Topeka for the NJCAA region tournament this weekend where it’ll face Hesston in the first round. No. 13 Kansas City Kansas and No. 14 Cowley will also be in that bracket.
Labette will head south to Pryor, Oklahoma, for its regional bracket along with No. 17 Johnson County, Murray State and Neosho County. The Cardinals and Scotties are both the top seeds in their respective tournaments and the winner of each bracket advances to nationals.
“We’ve got to hem up our defense,” Phillips said. “That’s my biggest concern right now. Whether we’re fielding a bunt or whatever, we’ve got to play tighter and more sound. We’ve faced basically everybody in our bracket. So it’s not something new. You’ve got to win three or even four games to go to the national tournament and it’s never easy. We’ve got six ranked teams in our conference and in the two brackets, so it’s going to be tough.”
This week for Labette will be about putting an emotionally taxing week in the rearview mirror as it tries to make its fourth trip to the national tournament.
“It’s aggravating and frustrating,” Phillips said. “But it’s an 0-0 season, now. Nothing about the last three months of what we did matters. We’ve got to go out and play softball.”
NO. 10 LABETTE VS. NO. 7 HIGHLAND
Highland 9, Labette 5
Highland: 100 031 4 — 9
Labette: 020 022 0 — 5
Labette: Morgan Schmidt 1 H; Keira Jackson 1 H, 1 R; Grey Holland 1 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Chloee Sams 3 H; Winter Snyder 2 H, 1 R, 2 RBI; Natalie Oxendine 1 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Makayla Davis 1 R; Jadeyn Wyrick (L) 7 IP, 14 H, 9 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
Highland: Minnick 1 H, 1 R; Schultz 1 H, 1 R; Serna 3 H, 2 RBI; Miller 2 H, 1 RBI; Gray 2 H, 2 R, 1 RBI; Finch 1 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Mayhugh 1 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Johnson 1 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Anguiano 1 H, 1 RBI; Ogden 1 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Self 1 R; Weir (W) 7 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 Bb, 14 K
Labette 4, Highland 3
Highland: 001 110 0 — 3
Labette: 003 000 1 — 4
Labette: Morgan Schmidt 1 H; Makayla Davis 1 H; Coralys Santiago-Pomales 1 H, 1 R; Grey Holland 1 H, 1 R; Hallee Boyd 1 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Chloee Sams 2 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Karlee Kinder 1 H; Katelyn Kotlarz (W) 7 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 12 K
Highland: Minnick 1 H, 1 R; Schultz 1 H; Serna 1 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Finch 1 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Kettle (L) 4 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K; Feldkamp 2.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K