TOPEKA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College softball team entered the Region VI DII District E Championships scratching and clawing to make it to Topeka for the first time in four seasons.
The T-Birds exited the tournament in the same fashion Saturday at Hummer Sports Complex as they were in each game until the final out, but had their season come to an end of a 1-0 loss to Cowley College and 8-7 defeat to Coffeyville Community College.
"There were a lot of good things to come out of this season and I'm proud of the girls," said Cloud County head coach, Aaron Acree, who saw his team win 11 of their last 14 entering Saturday. "What I really liked was the sophomore accepted the freshmen, made it a team and family environment. It was a fun ride once we figured everything out."
Saturday opened with a nail-biting 1-0 loss to No. 7 ranked Cowley College in a classic pitcher's duel between sophomore Jordan Ummel and Cowley's Logan Wenzel.
Ummel went all six innings, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out four. The lone blemish against her came in the bottom of the first inning on a two-out RBI single by Randi Hamilton.
"That was just a great game," Acree said. "Jordan pitched her tail off and the defense played well behind her."
Wenzel was just as sharp on the mound for the Tigers as Cloud County was held to three hits, two coming from freshman leadoff hitter Payton Gillen.
The T-Birds put the potential tying run on base in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, but were unable to get the key hit to push across the equalizer.
With the loss, Cloud County was placed into a must-win meeting against Coffeyville later in the afternoon and lost an 8-7, rollercoaster affair to the Red Ravens that featured four lead changes.
Speed played a pivotal role in deciding the outcome as Coffeyville made the most of mishit groundballs, capitalizing on a handful of infield singles.
Three infield singles in the sixth inning alone set the table for a four-run sixth inning for the Red Ravens. Coffeyville took a 7-6 lead on a two-out, two-run double — the only ball to leave the infield — heading to the seventh.
Down to their final three outs, the T-Birds tied the score at 7-7, poetically on a RBI infield single from Ummel.
Unfortunately, Cloud County would not be able to step back in the batter's box in extra innings as Coffeyville clinched the 8-7 win with a walk-off, inside-the-park home run by speedster Danielle Stover.
The T-Birds were playing in, trying to neutralize Coffeyville's speed in front of them, allowing for the perfect storm on Stover's one-hopper to the center field fence.
"We were playing in there," Acree said. "It came down to us fielding the ball cleanly in that second game. We played a little tight, defensively, and you can't do that when you get to this stage."
While ending the season on the wrong end of the scoreboard was disappointing, Acree praised the effort and growth of his team this season, spearheaded by its four sophomores: Autumn Adams, Dinkel, West and Ummel.
"They cared. All four of those girls led us the right way and I'm happy for them," Acree said. "They're going to be just fine out there in the real world after they leave here."
Cloud County will now turn its attention toward building around a solid freshmen nucleus of Gillen, Hammond, second baseman Madison Hartley, starting outfielders Kelsey Bowers and Shania Schraad, starting first baseman Alyssa Corpus, and reserves Alyssa Mitoska, Mikayla Leakey, Mariah Plummer, and Jazmyn Tannie.
"With our returners and the the additional kids we have coming in, we have a good looking team for next season," said Acree when asked about the prospects for the 2018-19 school year. "With the game experience our freshmen gained this year, they'll be counted on to lead us next year and hopefully they've learned from our four sophomores this year."