HASTINGS — Any momentum Kearney Catholic had from coming through the winners’ bracket got crushed early.
Needing one win in two games to claim the Class C state championship in just their third year, the Stars loaded the bases in the first inning Friday afternoon in Hastings.
But Guardian Angels Central Catholic turned Carleigh Eurek’s fly ball to center field into a double play, throwing out Krista Lee at home plate.
From there, the day belonged to the Bluejays as they swept the Stars 7-3 and 12-0 to wrestle the title away.
“That’s one that I probably want to have back,” Kearney Catholic coach Jon Ruyle said of the first-inning double play. “I know Krista’s quad has been acting up on her. And their pitcher has been throwing so well all week long and all year long, so runs are a premium, I took a chance. ... It really flipped the momentum and really kind of put us down from there.”
GACC (29-3) was stunned by Central City in the first round, but came storming through the losers’ bracket. The No. 1 seed, the Bluejays rode the arm of senior Erin Franzluebbers, who struck out 61 in the seven state tournament games, and an offensive lineup that produced a dozen home runs in the tournament.
Their power, backed by a stiff breeze, showed particularly in the third inning of the second championship game when they hit four home runs, enforcing the mercy rule on the Stars.
“I came into the tournament wanting to see what the best of the best is and how do I get my program there, and I just saw it,” Ruyle said. “Unfortunately for the girls, it was a lopsided loss in order for me to learn that lesson. So I will always appreciate them for going through it for me.”
Kearney Catholic (30-7) out-hit the Bluejays 10-9 in the first game. But the Stars trailed by seven runs before they put a mark on the scoreboard. Lee’s bases-loaded single scored one run in the fifth and Liv Nore’s fly ball to center was deep enough to score her sister Jacee with a second run.
Payton Schirmer’s RBI double in the sixth brought the Stars within four.
Schirmer and Lauren Marker were 2 for 3 at the plate and Sydney Owen was 2 for 4.
Franzluebbers struck out seven and walked only one while improving to 26-3 on the year.
In the second game, which lasted only three innings, Kearney Catholic came away with just one hit, a single to center by Alexis Keim.
KCHS pitcher Bralen Biddlecome, who had gone the distance throughout the tournament, finally yielded the circle to Owen in the third inning and the Bluejays treated Owen just as rudely with two home runs in two-thirds of an inning.
“From the start of the season they have been the top dog, so I’m really glad that we got a shot at them. I don’t think we threw our best shot at them and I hope we get to do that again someday,” Ruyle said.
GACC, last year’s runner-up, was making its 10th straight state tournament appearance and its fourth appearance in the state finals. The Bluejays won the state title in 2014.
Kearney Catholic has made two state tournament appearances in its 3-year history and dealt with the tragic death of head coach Russ Hiemstra last spring.
Ruyle said the Stars “are a community that has rallied and just fought with pride to make a memory of somebody worth something. I’m really happy for the work that’s gone into it and just show out for a guy like Russ. We couldn’t ask for a better tournament. Maybe a better outcome, but we’re still really proud of the effort.”
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