SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – All season long, like an annoying fly that wouldn’t go away, thoughts lingered in the mind of Blue Springs South softball coach Kristi Williams and the some of her players.
Those thoughts stemmed from one game. It was Oct. 22, 2016. In its first Class 4 state championship game appearance, Blue Springs South had just suffered a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Troy Buchanan in the Class 4 state championship game.
Jump ahead a year later, and the Jaguars were back in the state championship game. It was a goal to make it back all year. This time, they wanted a different result. One in which the team could hold up the first-place plaque.
It was not to be.
South experienced deja vu against the Marquette Mustangs Saturday at the Killian Softball Complex. The Jaguars managed just one hit against Marquette ace Annah Junge and they were hit in the gut again in a 2-0 loss.
The players were in disbelief, some with tears flowing down their faces. Before addressing the media, Williams needed a moment. She walked toward the light pole on the northwest side of the stadium. She leaned her head against it, grabbing the sides and blankly stared at the ground for a few seconds.
“It was our goal all year to get back to the game and win it,” an emotional Williams said. “And we weren’t able to do that and it made it hurt that much more.
“I told the girls, ‘It’s not not about trophies.’ I know it sucks. But they learned a lot about themselves and learned a lot about each other. They learned how to battle. They learned how to be better people. Some day they will realize that. Today is probably not that day. It will probably be awhile before that happens, but that’s what we talked about.
“I know the girls will talk about how we need to finish and get back here next year. Hopefully we can make another run.”
Opportunities to score were few and far between to score for South. With strong winds blowing north and toward home plate, it neutralized the Jaguars’ power hitting, which had been a key factor in their postseason run.
“We hit her hard,” Williams said of Junge. “The wind hurt us today. We knew we needed to keep the ball low and she did a good job to get us to hit it in the air. We tend to hit a lot of fly balls anyway. They knew that. She pitched us well enough where we hit it off the handle or hit it off the end. And even when we hit it hard, we couldn’t get it to drop.”
Junge, who had a 1.15 ERA, utilized her riseball to get the Jaguars to hit it in the air, so the wind would knock it down. She got six fly-outs, including two hard hit balls from South catcher Haley Woolf and shortstop Addy Lightner in the second inning.
“We had multiple hits where it looked like they were going to the fence, but the wind just came and knocked it down,” Woolf said. “We did the best we could. (Junge) had a good rise ball. You are usually going to hit that in the air unless you get on top of it.”
Marquette manufactured a run in the first when Lillian Knesel led of the first with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Alyssa Werner and scored on Tabitha Cacheris’ two-out RBI single through the right side.
South tried to answer in the third when Savannah Everhart reached on an error and Raegan Hecker reached on a bunt single. However, Junge got Madison Crosslin to hit into a fielder’s choice and Aubrie Munoz to ground out to end the threat. After that, South only had two base runners the rest of the game.
Marquette scored its other run in the fifth when Junge and McKenzie Gareau had back-to-back one-out singles. Junge scored on an infield error by South. The Mustangs had the bases loaded following another single from Knesel, but Jaguars starting pitcher Easton Seib, who gave up just one earned run on five hits and fanned two, was able to wiggle out of the jam by inducing a fielder’s choice out at home and a groundout.
“She was amazing,” Williams said of Seib. “She got us outs when we needed them and got out of the big jam in the fifth.”
Added Seib: “I just had to keep pushing and I knew the team had my back.”
Seib will have one more crack at getting a championship next year, but she and the rest of the rest of the Jaguars will have to do it without eight seniors.
“I am proud that we came this far,” Seib said. “Coming back two years in a row is a blessing and is kind of crazy and unheard of. (The loss) will be in our minds next year just like it was this year and we’ll use that as motivation.”