HASTINGS – Northwest hit four home runs Thursday at the Class B state softball tournament.
Unfortunately, the Vikings’ two opponents each hit one that turned out to be the game-winner.
Kristin Lange’s homer provided Elkhorn all of its runs in a 3-2 win over Northwest in the winners’ bracket semifinals.
Then Shelby Welchert’s two-run shot broke a 5-all tie in the top of the sixth to lead Blair to an 8-5 elimination game win at the Smith Complex.
“There’s no defense for that,” Northwest coach Dave Prokesh said of the homers. “Good hitters will do that, and unfortunately they did at exactly the wrong time for us. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
The No. 3-rated Vikings would have won a home run derby against No. 6 Blair 4-1, but it didn’t win the game.
After the Bears (22-7) scored two in the top of the first, Missy Knecht led off the bottom of the inning with a solo homer and Shelby Schacher followed with a two-run shot.
Knecht then led off the second with another home run — giving her two homers on the four pitches she had seen at that point.
Blair turned two singles and three walks into a pair of runs to tie the game at 4 in the third, and Emily Ellis’ sacrifice fly put the Bears up by a run in the fifth.
Laura Springer answered with her first homer of the season. The junior leftfielder’s solo shot to right centerfield was the first by a Viking other than Knecht or Schacher this season.
“I thought we hit the ball well all game long, and I believed we could,” Prokesh said. “I thought if we did score five or six, we’d have a chance. At the same time, you kind of knew we’d have to score that many.
“Blair is an outstanding team with a huge tradition – three straight state championships prior to last year. So their kids are used to this and the atmosphere. They’re very well coached, they’re exceptionally skilled and there’s just no margin for error against them.”
That error came in the sixth. A leadoff walk followed by a fielder’s choice gave the Bears a baserunner, and Welchert sent a 1-0 pitch well over the fence to give Blair the lead for good.
Welchert helped make herself the winning pitcher. She gave up four earned runs on eight hits with four strikeouts (two in the seventh) and six walks.
Ashley Scherer took her second loss of the day and third of the season against 22 wins. She allowed six earned runs on nine hits with two strikeouts and six walks over 5 1/3 innings.
“There were some things out of our control today,” Prokesh said. “Plenty of things we could have controlled and tipped the scale in our favor.
“In a game like this it’ll come down to one favorable play, one inning, one decision, one at-bat. It went well for them, better than it did for us. Unfortunately we came out on the wrong end.”
One big hit by Lange and early dominating pitching by Laura Roecker proved to be enough to get No. 5 Elkhorn past the Vikings 3-2 earlier in the day.
Lange deposited her three-run home run over the fence in right field with two outs in the third inning.
Roecker was shutting down Northwest’s offense, giving up only one hit while striking out five over the first two innings.
But the Vikings started to get things going in the fourth and loaded the bases with two outs only to see Roecker deliver her sixth strikeout of the game.
Northwest stranded a pair of runners in the fifth before finally breaking through in the sixth.
With one out, Jordan Pedersen hit a pinch-hit infield single. After a strikeout, Hannah Rathke walked and Mikaela Keene reached on an error to once again load the bases.
Knecht then sent a single back up the middle to plate Pedersen and Rathke, but Keene was thrown out trying to advance to third to end the inning.
The Antlers (24-7) got Northwest out 1-2-3 in the seventh to secure the win.
Roecker gave up no earned runs on four hits, striking out seven and walking five.
Scherer took the loss, giving up three runs on five hits (four of them in the third), striking out four and walking four.
Northwest ended the season 29-3 and claimed the program’s first conference championship, first district championship, first state appearance and first state tournament victory.
“This team had an incredible run,” Prokesh said. “Our goal at the beginning of the year was to try as establish ourselves among the top teams in Class B, if not the state as a whole. I felt we took some very positive steps towards that.”
Elkhorn (24-7) 003 000 0—3 5 2
Northwest (29-2) 000 002 0—2 4 0
WP—Roecker (15-5). LP—Scherer (22-2). HR—E, Lange (3).
Blair (22-7) 202 012 1—8 12 2
Northwest (29-3) 310 010 0—5 9 1
WP—Welchert (22-7). LP—Scherer (22-3). 2B—B, Ellis 2, Prochaska. HR—B, Welchert (3); NW, Knecht 2 (4, 5), Schacher (8), Springer (1).