Pioneer softball falls in regional championship, following program's first playoff win
The Leavenworth softball team advanced to their first KHSAA Class 5A regional championship in school history Tuesday, before falling to top-ranked Spring Hill 10-0. The teams played the games at Pioneer Sports Complex due to adverse field conditions at Spring Hill.
"The girls exceeded my expectations," head coach Kacy Tillery said on the heels of her team's first-ever regional championship appearance. "Their work ethic and willingness to learn new ways made me proud to be their coach. This was an incredible group of young ladies."
Leavenworth earned their spot in the championship by downing 8-seed Sumner Academy 15-7 earlier in the day. The Pioneers jumped on the board in the top of the first after junior spark plug Kaylee McLain drew a walk, stole second and eventually scored on a wild pitch.
Landri Lopez got the start and was in control early, holding the Sabres hitless with four strikeouts through two innings before an ankle injury while running the bases in the top of the third inning led to her removal from the lineup. The injury deprived the Pioneers of their staff ace and one of their top offensive threats for the rest of the afternoon.
Sumner Academy promptly took advantage, capitalizing on a tight strike zone and timely hitting to score four runs in the home half of the third inning to go ahead 4-1. Leavenworth cut the edge in half in the top of the fourth inning, when junior Taylor Norberto doubled home sophomore Paci Tate.
The Pioneers took the lead for good in the fifth frame, plating eight runs via a two-RBI single by freshman Paradise Wright, Norberto's three-RBI, bases-clearing double and senior Mikayla Garrison's inside-the-park home run, also scoring Norberto.
After Sumner cut it to 10-7 in the bottom of the fifth, Tate singled and scored in the sixth to push the edge to 11-7. Leavenworth then closed the game in the seventh with four runs, highlighted by freshman catcher Jada Eagle's 3-run triple.
"I am excited about their growth from the first practice to our last game,” Tillery said of the team’s freshmen. “They are an athletic, energetic, fun group, and they will continue to do great things in their athletic careers."
McLain picked up the win in the circle, going five solid innings in relief. The right-hander limited the Sabres to only three hits and four earned runs while striking out three.
Leading the Pioneers at the plate in the win were Norberto (2-for-5, with two doubles, one run scored, and four runs batted in); Eagle (2-for-3, with one triple, one run scored, and four runs batted in); Tate (2-for-4, with a triple and three runs scored); Jewell Lake (1-for-4, with two runs scored); McLain (1-for-3, with three runs scored); Wright (1-for-4, with a run scored and two runs batted in); Garrison (1-for-3, with a home run, two runs scored, and three runs batted in); Kylee West (1-for-1, two walks, two runs scored); and Lopez (1-for-2).
Spring Hill limited the hosts to one hit en route to the 10-0 victory in the regional championship game. The top-ranked Broncos (20-1) struck multiple scores in the first, fourth and fifth innings. Lake (1-for-2) had the lone hit for Leavenworth.
Tillery said the team has a lot to look forward to with the majority of its starters slated to return.
"I want to focus on defense and teaching our kids about the game. The ins and outs that cannot be taught in our short season. I hope they are playing over the summer to keep their skills sharp. I'm excited that we will have the possibility of having the entire varsity team back, except for our one senior (third baseman Mikayla Garrison) that's graduating. We have started something exciting that we can build on."