HASTINGS, Neb. — There have been so many Kerkmanisms over the years — phrases Millard South coach Steve Kerkman lobs over and over at his players during the two months they spend together — that the best have ended up on T-shirts.
‘Buy In’ just might need to be added to the all-time list by the time play concludes Friday on the final day of the Class A state softball tournament.
That’s the anchor phrase of the Patriots circa 2012, a tough-minded team that stands one win away from earning its second consecutive state championship following a 6-3 winners bracket victory Thursday over Papillion-La Vista.
An explosive fifth inning at the Smith Softball Complex allowed the 28-5 Patriots to build a lead they would never lose. Four hits, a walk and one Papio error helped Millard South bat around the order and build a 5-0 lead.
Being patient getting to that point is what Kerkman said allowed the Patriots to take advantage of an inning that started with singles by their eighth- and ninth-place hitters, Val Kinney and Katie Goney. By buying into that philosophy, Millard South was able to cash in at just the right time.
“We had the right approach at the plate and on defense,” Kerkman said. “It always seems to take us a little time to do that offensively but it worked right away on defense.”
Millard South defeated Lincoln Southeast 4-3 earlier Thursday to earn the chance to play Papillion, which defeated Omaha Benson 10-3 in the other winners bracket game.
Southeast then was eliminated 8-0 in five innings by Grand Island, and Papillion-La Vista South ended 24-10 Benson’s historic first trip to state with a 6-3 victory.
Papio South rallied from a 2-0 deficit with four runs in the sixth inning — including into-the-wind home runs by Nicole Warren and Jackie Jaramillo with two outs — to eliminate Grand Island 6-3.
The Titans and Monarchs will meet at 12:30 p.m. for a chance to face Millard South in the 3 p.m. championship game. If the Patriots lose that game, a second game would be played to crown the champion in the double elimination tournament.
“Having played Papillion and Millard South already, we know we have to bring our ‘A’ game,” Titans coach Dan Hogan said. “We will approach it like any other game. We just have to come out and execute, execute, execute.”
Papio coach Todd Petersen said it’s an advantage for his team to face one and potentially two familiar foes on a path that he hopes will lead the 28-8 Monarchs to the school’s 14th Class A state championship.
“It’s better for us because we have more information to work with and it gives us an opportunity to do something special,” Petersen said. “All I want to do is see how well they respond. When they’ve been in situations like this, they’ve responded well.”
The Monarchs got off to a great start against the Patriots but had nothing to show for their effort in the first inning. Papillion had three hits in loading the bases in the top of the first inning but couldn’t score any runs.
Patriots pitcher Jordan Johnson then scattered five hits over the next six innings and set the Monarchs down in order in the third and fourth innings. Just enough time for the offense to get cranked up.
After Kinney and Goney singled, Chloe Boeka sacrificed Sydney Robertson, who was running for Kinney, and Goney up one base before Madi Unzicker drew a walk to load the bases. Vicky Kinney and Jordyn Sturgeon then followed with RBI singles that ignited the scoring explosion.
“(Jordan) pitched phenomenally and we played great defense behind her,” Kerkman said. “We had to make defensive plays against the fastest team in the state.”
The Patriots didn’t commit a single error but made the most of one by Papio in the seventh to add an insurance run. The Monarchs scored one run in the fifth and two more in the seventh courtesy of a home run by freshman Sam Dellinger.
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