Posted 3 months ago
By John Axtell
LAMAR, Colo. – The Western Nebraska Community College softball ended Saturday in the best-of-3 finals series of the Region IX tournament in Lamar as they Cougars fell to Otero Junior College in two exciting games
In the opener, WNCC’s late rally came up short in a 4-2 defeat. The second game saw Jordan Smith toss a superb game but Otero had a second inning home run to prevail 1-0.
In the first game, Otero jumped to a 4-0 lead through five innings before WNCC started a late rally. The Cougars finished the game with just five hits. WNCC pitcher Shelby McGraw also kept Otero in check, allowing six hits and striking out six.
The difference in the game was the Cougars left five on base, including a fifth inning where the Cougars had a prime scoring chance.
WNCC finally did crack the scoreboard in the sixth as Angel Council and Jessica Ball had back-to-back singles. McGraw then roped a first-pitch double to score both runners to cut the lead to 4-2.
WNCC was led at the plate by Council and McGraw who each had two hits. McGraw had two RBIs, a double and a walk.
The second game saw Jordan Smith toss a nice game, allowing a single run on 3 hits while striking out 4 and walking just one. Smith’s only miscue came in the 2nd inning when Otero’s Anna Jean Souza took the second pitch of the inning over the left field fence.
The difference in the game was the Cougars’ inability to get a runner across home plate. WNCC outhit the Rattlers 5-3, but left 7 on base during the game. WNCC’s biggest chances to score came in the 1st and 4th innings.
In the 1st, Kelsey Bernhardt walked, Ball was hit by a pitch, and McGraw singled but Bernhardt was called out on a very close, controversial play at the plate.
After Otero went up 1-0, WNCC kept getting runners on base. In the 4th, Lindsay Guymon led off with a single, RaVae Herrera reached on a fielder’s choice, and Courtney Cloud followed with a 2-out single.
Bernhardt then hit a hot grounder that was bobbled momentarily, but Herrera tried scoring on the play and was out at the plate, Cloud was the only Cougar to register two hits, but was left in scoring position both times.
Although the season didn’t end they way they’d hoped, the Cougars take with them plenty of positives after the team finished with a second straight 50-win season.
McGraw, one of three sophomores on the team, said this team means so much to her and they don’t have to hang their heads for the season they had.
“This group of girls is beyond amazing and are the hardest workers that I have ever played with,” McGraw said. “To be a part of a team that has won back-to-back 50-win seasons is such an honor and it is great to know that you made an impact in the history of the school.”
Ball, the Region IX Player of the Year and the nation’s leader in home runs, said for them to have the season they had despite coming up short is a credit to the team. She said she wouldn’t trade any of her teammates for anything.
“We are a really good team and we are young, but I also have never been on a team that has had such a bond as just not teammates but as a family,” she said. “I am really going to miss the sophomores because they are a great part of our team, Like Coach Winn said, we are on the wrong side of the scoreboard and all we can do is try next year, learn from our mistakes. I will never forget this team.”
The difference in the games for the Cougars was they were unable to get the clutch hit. “Things were just not going our way,” McGraw said. “We were hitting her good, but the hits wouldn’t fall our way. We made some really good plays, too, but just came up short.”
Ball, who had an amazing, diving catch in foul territory, said they just were a little unlucky on the day. “We couldn’t get our hands around on the inside pitch and we were trying to do more than what we needed to do,” Ball said.
And, Ball said, of how this team stayed together and fought to the last out is a credit to how hard they work. “We started the season with 20 players and now we are down to 13,” she said. “We just kept going strong and strong and we made it, but we just fell short.”
Ball, who was presented her Player of the Year award after the game, said winning the award was unexpected. What she does is just play the game and she is looking forward to next year.
“It was a great award to get but I didn’t expect it at all. I just play the game because I love it and I don’t expect individual awards for it,” she said. “We are just going to step up next year. I am excited to see what the new team has for us.”
WNCC 000 002 0 – 2 5 3
Otero 011 020 x – 4 6 1
LP – Shelby McGraw; 2B – McGraw.
Otero 010 000 0 – 1 3 2
WNCC 000 000 0 – 0 5 0
LP – Jordan Smith.