The Pender 14-and-under softball team completed a 34-10 season this weekend by going 6-0 at the Nebraska Class C State Tournament and bringing home another state championship for the youth softball program.
Consistent hitting up and down the lineup and outstanding pitching were the keys to the success on the weekend.
The action in the 25-team tournament started Friday afternoon at the Hastings Softball Complex with a game against the Hebron Rebels.
In game one the ladies’ bats came out hot right from the start, scoring three runs in the first inning and six more in the second. Pender added another six runs in the third and fourth innings to combine for 15 runs in the first game and win by the 10-run rule.
Offensive highlights in the game included three-hit, four-RBI performances by Caitlyn Heise and Marissa Kelly. That ncluded a three-run homer hit out of the park by Kelly in the fourth inning.
Heise and Kelly also scored four runs each. Ashley Ostrand and Zoey Lehmkuhl had two hits apiece and combined for five RBIs and four runs scored. Also, recording hits in the game was Reese Kneifl, Londyn Nelson and Dawson Anderson. The entire team found ways to reach base in this offensive explosion, and everyone contributed to the win. Defensively, Londyn Nelson started the game on the mound with Heise coming in to collect the win. Defensively, the entire team contributed with all the putouts collected in the field.
Game two took place a few hours later on Friday evening as the Pender 14s took on the Broadway Bombers from Scottsbluff.
Once again, the girls came out with roaring bats and scored four runs in the first inning, six runs in the second, and four runs in the third.
Offensive highlights were timely doubles by Dawson Anderson and Carson Miller. Anderson recorded two hits on the game, Kneifl recorded two hits and two runs, while Nelson and Ostrand each recorded hits and scored three runs apiece.
Also, hitting safely were Tymarie Ott, Callie Rabbass and Lehmkuhl.
As in game one, every Pendragon reached base and contributed to the offensive effort. The Broadway Bombers were unable to get any momentum rolling as the Pender defense helped Nelson record a one-hit shutout as Pender rolled to a 14-0 victory.
Two straight wins put the Pender girls into a 3 p.m. winner’s bracket game on Saturday against the Hastings Bombers Red.
Pender got the bats rolling in the top of the second with back-to-back singles by Anderson and Miller. A timely triple by Kneifl scored the two to get things started for the 14s.
The Bombers answered back in the bottom of the second with two runs of their own. The Bombers added another run in the third, taking the lead and putting the Pender girls in a deficit for the first time in the tournament.
The fourth inning began with a pair of walks for Anderson and Miller. A Maria Ras double scored the two runs and a critical error and wild pitch lead to Ras scoring to take a 5-3 lead.
The Bombers continued to battle, adding two more runs with two doubles and an error to tie the game at 5-5. Neither team was able to score in the fifth and, with time running out the teams, knew that the sixth inning would probably be their last.
Ras lead off the sixth with a walk while Kneifl and Heise had hard hits that created errors and scored her. Kelly then hit a triple deep to right center scoring two more runs, while an error allowed her to score as well. Four additional hits by Lehmkuhl, Anderson, Miller and Callie Rabbass, as well as base running by Claire Felber, lead to four additional runs being scored in the inning. The eight-run sixth inning was enough to secure the win. The Bombers were able to add three more runs in the bottom of the inning, but it wasn’t enough as time expired and Pender picked up the 13-8 victory.
Nelson again handled pitching duties for Pender, striking out three and only giving up one walk. After the victory on Saturday, the Pender 14s were one of four teams rolling into championship sunday undefeated.
Game four was an early morning contests against Kelly’s Fastpitch 14s from Norfolk.
The top of the second inning was lead off with a double to center field. A walk by Ostrand and a defensive error on an Anderson hit allowed Pender to take a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the third, Kelly’s tied the game with a base hit, a walk, a costly error and some quality base running. Ostrand helped Pender to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth inning with an infield base hit, a pair of stolen bases, and then scored on a fielder’s choice.
In the top of the fifth, Pender looked to extend its lead with a lead off hit by Miller. Ras, Kneifl, Heise, Kelly and Ostrand all continued to hit to bring in two more runs to extend the lead to 5-2. Kelly’s quickly responded by adding one run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Pender put the game out of reach in the top of the sixth as it scored three more runs with hits by Miller, Ras and Heise.
The Pender defense was again lead by an outstanding pitching effort by Nelson. She gave up three runs on four hits and pair of walks, as well as four strikeouts. Ostrand also had an outstanding defensive game recording seven putouts from second base with no errors. The 8-3 victory moved Pender on to the semifinals against the Gresham Blackbirds.
GAME 5 - SEMIFINAL
The final pair of undefeated teams of the tournament met In the semifinals at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday.
The Pender defense took over this game from the start. On the mound, Nelson started off the game by striking out the first three batters. Nelson only gave up two hits while striking out five in a shutout win.
Playing second base, Ostrand played a big part in the defense along with Kelly at shortstop. Offensively, Pender bats were rolling up and down the order, with the girls scoring three runs in the first inning, one in the hird, and they finished the game with six runs in the fourth inning to evoke the 10-run mercy rule. The dominating 10-0 win sent the girls into the finals.
GAME 6 - CHAMPIONSHIP
Headed to Championship game, Pender would have to be beaten twice by DMilaco Red of Kearney.
Having been upset in the third round, the powerful DMilaco Red team won five straight games to get itself into a position to play for Pender for all of the marbles. Having been beaten by DMilaco earlier in the season, Pender knew this would be their toughest game of the tournament.
DMilaco struck early by scoring a run in the top of the first inning on an error in the outfield that allowed the Kearney batter to circle the bases.
Nelson, starting her sixth game, was able to quickly take control of the inning and help guide a pair of ground balls to Miller at third base with a fly out to Lehmkuhl ending the inning.
Pender was unable to respond in the bottom of the first, although Nelson did record a hit of her own. In the second inning, Nelson, with help from Kelly at shortstop, was able to take care of the DMilaco bats.
Pender got bats going in the second inning with Lehmkuhl and Miller hitting safely and scoring. Ras also collected an RBI and reached on a base hit helping Pender take a 2-1 lead.
A lead-off walk for DMilaco and a base hit lead to a run in the top of the third inning.
The defense quickly settled down as Ras threw out a runner stealing second base, a strikeout and a play at short ended the inning.
Heise lead off the bottom of the third inning with a base hit. A bunt by Ostrand and an error on the catcher lead to Heise scoring and Pender taking the lead once again.
Each teams’ defense was solid in the fourth inning, preventing any runs from scoring. In the top of the fifth inning, DMilaco managed to tie the game again thanks to two Pender errors and a double.
Pender was able to bounce back with hits from Kneifl, Heise, and Kelly contributing one run and securing a 4-3 lead through five innings.
In the top of the sixth inning, DMilaco took advantage of two Pender errors along with a triple to take a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the sixth. With time running out, Anderson lead off the bottom of the sixth inning with a double to center field.
Advancing to third base on a fielder’s choice by Miller, Anderson scored easily on a base hit by Ras to tie the game at 5. With one out and Ras on first base, Kneifl bunted the runner to second base. With Heise at bat with two outs, she hit a ball to the middle of the field. A bobble and bad throw to first base lead to Ras taking advantage and scoring in dramatic fashion with a play at the plate and Pender taking a 6-5 lead.
Pender’s next batter was out with only 30 seconds remaining in the game, forcing DMilaco to the plate for the top of the seventh inning. Nelson didn’t give the Kearny girls any time to get comfortable at the plate.
A fly out to short, a ground ball to the pitcher and a called strike 3 ended the game with a 6-5 Pender victory and secured the Class C 14U state championship. The success the girls had this weekend was true team effort. All 12 girls played to their full potential and beat some of the best teams in any class of softball this weekend.
Offensively the 14’s scored 66 runs on the weekend and the defense worked together to only give up just 19. Throughout the season, this team made strides to improve in each game they played.
From a 1-4 start in their first tournament of the year to a 6-0 finish in the state championships, the 14s never stopped believing in what they could accomplish. They finished third at districts, second in the Logan Valley League tournament and ended with a Class C State Championship trophy.