TOPEKA — Labette’s trip to the NJCAA Region VI District E Tournament was ended by a familiar postseason foe on Sunday afternoon as the Neosho County Panthers ended the Cardinals’ season with a 7-0 win.
The Cardinals’ offense, which was limited to just two hits in its first loss of the double elimination bracket to Highland on Saturday, was held to three hits by Neosho County pitcher Kaelee Escoe.
“Their pitcher threw really well,” Labette head coach Ryan Phillips said. “We had to wake up at 6 a.m. then had the games pushed back. But Neosho County came out and played, so I don’t know.”
Neosho County scored five runs, all charged to starting pitcher Haylee Van Deventer, in the first three innings to put Labette in an early hole. Lindzi Pellock relieved Van Deventer in the third frame and allowed two more runs in the seventh.
Labette only got three runners in scoring position throughout the game.
“Overall, when it was four to five runs,” Phillips said, “you can still manufacture runs. Our approach didn’t change until the last few outs. Their pitcher kept us off balance and made some great, big-time plays defensive plays that allowed them to keep the momentum.”
Sunday’s loss marked the second straight year Neosho County ended the Cardinals’ season — the Panthers eliminated Labette in the first round of the tournament in 2018. It also marked the fifth straight season that Labette and Neosho County faced off in a postseason elimination game.
“I don’t think they have our number, they just outplayed us,” Phillips said. “It didn’t matter if we come up with Neosho County or Cowley today. It comes down to who makes the big plays in big situations. Momentum just never turned the tide in our direction.”
Despite the loss, Labette’s 2019 campaign trended upwards from recent years. The Cardinals finished the season with a 23-20 overall record, snapping a two-year streak of losing seasons. Labette also returned to Topeka after missing out on the trip last spring.
“The sophomores rebounded after the heartache of not even being here last year,” Phillips said. “We’re one step closer to what we want to be — a powerhouse day in and day out consistently. Hopefully next year, our team will understand the atmosphere this tournament brings.”
While Labette returns a significant core of its roster from this season — including two of the four All-KJCCC honorees in Audrey Miller and Julia Hawkins — the Cardinals will still have to fill holes at shortstop, right field and two pitchers with its incoming recruiting class. Labette has 10 players signed with one scholarship left to issue.
“We have a great group of freshmen coming in to solidify what we have coming back,” Phillips said. “We’ve got a lot of significant positions and roles to fill. It’s always hard to insure two pitchers in the circle. But I think our freshmen will come in and be able to step up.”
Phillips added that while growth was evident in this year’s team, there’s still room to improve.
“The consistency was the hardest thing to swallow,” Phillips said. “We could come out and play tremendously one game, then turn around and not execute. I thought we had a great year in terms of making it to the championship day in Topeka after getting beat in the first round last year. But in the grand scheme, we’re not looking to just be good. We want to be great.”
NJCAA REGION VI DISTRICT E TOURNAMENT
Neosho County 7, Labette 0
Labette: 000 000 0 — 0
Neosho County: 302 002 X — 7
Labette: Julia Hawkins 1 H; Rindy Marquez 1 H; Adron Durman 1 H; Haylee Van Deventer (L) 2.1 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K; Lindzi Pellock 3.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K
Neosho County: Libby Horton 2 H, 2 RBI; Alyssa Rogers 2 R; Kinsley Stewart 1 R; Kaelee Escoe 1 H, 1 R, 1 RBI; Madison Phillips 3 H, 2 R, 3 RBI; Sierra Spurlock 1 R, 1 RBI; Escoe (W) 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K