Youthful Chieftains enter first 4A state with 20-3 record
Melissa Pratt was a bit perturbed.
The Tonganoxie High catcher tried to call "time" during an at-bat at last week's Class 4A regional softball championship against Piper.
But the umpire ruled the Piper pitcher already had started her windup, meaning Pratt was sacked with an automatic strike.
Moments later, Pratt was trotting around the bases.
The sophomore sent the ball over the left-field fence. The shot also sent Tonganoxie to its first state berth in school history.
"It was right down the middle," Pratt said. "I'm sure she was regretting that pitch."
Pratt's home run was her first of the season, and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time. The homer came in the bottom of the fourth.
"I didn't know it was going over until I heard the crowd," Pratt said.
Tonganoxie went on to win, 1-0, against the underdog Pirates and capped a regional in which the top-seeded Chieftains held all three of their opponents scoreless.
Pitcher Amie Riddle admitted a scoreless tie was nerve-racking when she was on the mound.
But Pratt's single swing helped Riddle relax a little bit on the mound.
"I always seem to pitch better when we have more than one run," Riddle said. "It's intense when both defenses are going crazy like that."
Tonganoxie's lead appeared in jeopardy in the top of the seventh. Riddle gave up a hard hit to center field, but the throw from the outfield to second beat the Pirate runner, who was trying for a double.
The baserunner appealed to umpires, saying THS first baseman Jamie Hicks got in her way as she was rounding first, and thus should have been awarded second. But the umpires upheld their ruling, and Tonganoxie went on to win its first regional title.
THS, with a 20-3 record, will be a No. 3 seed when state begins Friday at Bill Burke Sports Complex, 1501 E. Crawford in Salina.
The Chieftains will play No. 6 Augusta (16-5) at 7 p.m. A win in that game would send the Chieftains to the state semifinals against No. 2 Marysville (21-2) or No. 7 Louisburg (16-7).
Tonganoxie advanced through a regional that had just two other teams with winning records -- No. 2 Eudora at 15-5 and No. 3 Basehor-Linwood at 12-6. But Basehor-Linwood fell to Piper in the semifinals and Eudora lost to PHS in the semifinals.
That didn't bother Riddle.
"We've had some awesome games this season and I think we deserve it," Riddle said. "We definitely deserve it.
"Our league, I personally think, is one of the hardest in the state in a lot of girls sports."
Lansing, which tied Tonganoxie for the Kaw Valley League crown, will play in the Class 5A state title. The Lions, at 16-6, are the No. 8 seed and will play No. 1 Overland Park St. Thomas Aquinas (21-1) at 5 p.m. Friday in Topeka.
The Chieftains have two players who qualified for the state track meet, which also is Friday and Saturday -- but it's in Wichita.
Roxie Grizzle qualified for the javelin and shot put, while Hileman advanced in the triple jump and the high jump. Grizzle's events won't conflict with the softball tournament, as both events are Friday morning.
Hileman, meanwhile, could have a tough decision on her hands. She'll compete in the long jump at 9:45 a.m. Friday, but the triple jump will start at 8 a.m. Saturday in Wichita. If Tonganoxie were to win against Augusta in softball Friday, the team would play at 10 a.m. Saturday. HIleman would be hard-pressed to compete in Wichita and then head north to Salina, about 90 miles north on Interstate 135.