Panthers spoil champion Jaguars' return
It didn’t take Elle Smith long to prove her worth to the back-to-back Class 4 defending state champion Blue Springs South softball team.
The same could be said for freshman Ella Westhoff, as both Jaguars enjoyed solid first-game performances, but their play wasn’t enough to help South claim a win in its Senior Night opener against Park Hill South.
Panthers starter Annabelle Winter threw a three-hitter, allowed just two unearned runs and retired 15 batters in a row to hand the Jaguars a 4-2 loss Monday afternoon at home.
“Their pitcher was great today and we couldn’t make any adjustments against her,” Jaguars coach Kristi Williams said after seniors Bre Barchak (who played the past three seasons at Blue Springs High School), McKenna Lester, Kyndall Bennaka and Tori Bradley were honored in a pregame ceremony.
“(Park Hill) South played an awesome game. And I thought we were a little tight. I thought we played like we were trying to prove something, and I told the girls we don’t have to prove anything to anyone. But you know, it’s hard not to feel that way when you’ve been to the final four four years in a row and won it the last two years.
“We’re going to be fine. It was just one game.”
And it was a game that thrilled Smith, even though she was disappointed in the outcome. One of the premier leadoff hitters and center fielders in the state missed all but seven games last season and eventually had surgery for a torn labrum.
She was back in her familiar outfield position against the Panthers as she caught a long fly ball to center field in the first inning, made a strong throw to catcher Tori Bradley, who threw to third baseman Lauren Good to complete an 8-2-5 double play.
Smith then walked to open the bottom of the first and scored on a throwing error by Panthers first baseman Trinity Bindel.
“I hate it that we lost,” Smith said, “but it is so great to be back. I missed it so much. I’d rather be playing with the girls than cheering for them (while injured) on the bench. Today is such a blessing, and I know we are going to have a great season.”
When asked about the play of Westhoff, Smith gave a glowing review of her outfield mate.
“She came to play today, didn’t she?” Smith said. “She has worked so hard, and I am so proud of her. We’re all proud of Ella.”
And that includes Williams, who had nothing but good things to say about the freshman.
“What I like about Ella,” Williams said, “is that she works hard, pays attention and is always smiling. She had a lot to smile about today.”
Westhoff made two outstanding catches in left field, running back and jumping high for one out and then running down a ball in the left field corner. And she added a base hit in her first varsity at-bat.
“It feels so good to make some contributions to our team today,” Westhoff said. “I was happy with those two plays in the outfield, but I was really happy to get that hit in my first at bat. I was so excited when I got that hit.”
The Jaguars scored two unearned runs in the first inning and that was it for the offense against Winter.
The Panthers scored solo runs in the first, second, third and fifth innings to claim the non-conference victory.
“We play a lot of games this season,” Smith said. “We’re going to go to practice tomorrow and work hard and get ready for our next game. That’s what we always do.”