WAVERLY – Waverly softball’s season came full circle as it dropped two games in the district final to Seward to end the Vikings’ season.
On Aug. 22, Waverly started off its season with a one-run loss to the Seward Bluejays and found its season ending the same way in Saturday’s district final.
After winning game one, the Vikings dropped the final two games of the three-game series to narrowly miss punching their ticket to the State Tournament.
The first game would be a just a preview of the all-out battle on the diamond between the two teams.
The Vikings started the scoring in the first when junior Tara Tenopir scored on a Seward error.
Seward would strike back with two of its own in the top of the third.
A Bluejay single and a hit batter put two on with no outs and Seward would utilize a little small ball.
Successive sacrifices, a bunt and a fly, scored one and another Bluejay single scored the other to make it 2-1 heading to the bottom of the third.
Waverly would tie it in the fifth on junior Sydney Griffins RBI single but Seward would retake the lead in the sixth, 3-2.
Sophomore Tenley Kozal tied it at three in the bottom of the sixth, scoring senior Kendall Hartley on a single to left field.
Waverly would force an unorthodox 1-2-3 top of the seventh before its walk-off game one win.
Junior Kelsey Cordes would start the final frame with a single, followed by a Griffin single.
Some Seward defensive miscues allowed both runners to advance to second and third and with the open base, the Bluejays elected to intentionally walk Tenopir to load the bases.
Up stepped junior Morgan Schuelke with a chance to end the game and put the Vikings one win away from State.
On a 1-2 count, Schuelke pulled a Seward pitch into left field to score Cordes and win game one, 4-3.
Head Coach Amanda Schaefer said that she was preparing with Schuelke Saturday before the game and to see it come to fruition was satisfying.
“When it comes to big moments, (Schuelke) produces runs for us,” Schaefer said. “Just getting her to understand her role and the confidence to fulfill it, it was really awesome to see.”
In game two, the Vikings switched to the visitors on the scoreboard and took advantage of their chance to strike early.
Waverly jumped on Seward pitching to score two runs in the top of the first.
After a scoreless bottom of the inning, the Vikings tacked on another run to make it 3-0 after Cordes hit a one-out triple and scored on a Griffin sac fly.
Seward would come back to tie it after scoring a run in the second, third and fourth innings while holding the Vikings scoreless.
Schaefer said the lull in the Vikings offense was not for lack of trying.
“All season the girls have stayed humble and worked hard,” Schaefer said. “I really don’t think it was a lack of effort and I really don’t think it was a lack of physical ability. I just really think that it came down to a grueling mental grind and that’s tough, no matter how good you are.”
Griffin and Cordes would once again key the Viking offense in the sixth.
Cordes hit a one-out single and scored on a long Griffin double that rolled all the way to the wall to give the Vikings a 4-3 lead and needing only six outs to book their trip to Hastings.
The Bluejays would not go quietly.
A leadoff single put a Bluejay aboard with no outs.
Seward executed a sac bunt to move the runner into scoring position. The Vikings took the out at first but in their fervor failed to get back and cover third base. The Bluejays took advantage and swiped the extra base to give them a runner on third with only one out.
The next batter would ground out to Waverly senior pitcher Kennedi Claycomb but it would be enough to push the run home, tying the game.
The Vikings would escape the inning without any further damage but would head to extra innings.
In the bottom of the tenth, Seward would get a walk-off win of its own.
With a runner starting on second, as they do in international rules for extra inning softball games, Seward hit a one-out single that fell between shortstop Kendall Hartley and left fielder Kiersten Dowding.
The ball dropped and died at the two Vikings’ feet causing them to overrun the bloop hit.
The hiccup allowed the Seward runner to score from second making the final score 5-4 and sending the series to a decisive third game.
The final game was a pitcher’s duel throughout.
Waverly’s Claycomb and Seward’s Sydney Parra pitched every inning of the three-game series and saved their best for last.
Both teams would combine for 11 hits but only one run, a Seward tally in the sixth, that would ultimately decide the series.
The 1-0 Seward win was only appropriate. The Bluejays and Vikings played four times in the 2019 season. In all four games, three Seward wins, the margin of victory was a single run.
Earlier in the week, the Vikings stormed through subdistrict play in Firth.
The Vikings beat Ashland-Greenwood in the first round and then host Norris Titans twice in a row to claim the subdistrict title and their spot in the district final with Seward.
Asked to sum up the season, Schaefer said that it was a tough road but she said she hoped her team knows it was worth all the time and effort.
“This group was really special. They came together as a team. We push them hard and they responded,” Schaefer said. “They have left an amazing legacy that they should really be proud of.”
The Vikings end their season with a 20-12 record and a bright future with several key starters expected to return.