This time the matchup between the state's two highest-rated softball teams was a slugfest for four innings and a pitchers duel the final three.
Newly minted as the state's top-ranked team, Papillion-La Vista defeated Millard South 5-3 Thursday before an estimated 200 at Halleck Park. It was the 8-0 Monarchs' second victory over the two-time defending Class A champion Patriots in five days.
Papio coach Todd Petersen and Millard South's Steve Kerkman expected and got a closer game than the Monarchs' 8-1 rout in Saturday's championship game of the Omaha Marian tournament.
“They competed harder tonight and I think we knew we were in a great game,” Petersen said. “Both teams played well, and there's a reason they're the two-time defending state champions.”
All eight runs Thursday came in the first four innings, which took better than 90 minutes.
Papio's All-Nebraska center fielder Gina Metzler led off the bottom of the first inning with a double to left-center field. The Nebraska recruit then beat a throw to third on an infield grounder by Kylie Schwarting, who took first on the fielder's choice.
Schwarting stole second before starting pitcher Sam Dellinger laced a two-run single just inside the third base bag. Dellinger moved to second on the throw home.
The Patriots left two runners on base in the first and second innings. That all changed in the top of the third.
Nebraska recruit Madi Unzicker led off with a home run to left-center. All-Nebraska shortstop Vicky Kinney followed with a single. Then, with one out, catcher Jordyn Sturgeon launched Millard South's second home run of the inning, a two-run shot to left field for a 3-2 lead.
“Our team was better as a unit but individually we have to build confidence in ourselves to be great in tough situations,” Kerkman said. “We need to be better like that in tough situations.”
The Monarchs showed some of their own toughness by scoring twice in the bottom of the third to regain the lead, 4-3. Again it was Metzler who got things started, this time with a single.
Schwarting sacrificed her to second and Dellinger picked up her third RBI of the game with a double. Julia Andersen, who came in for Dellinger in the circle with one out in the fourth inning, drove Dellinger home with a single to right to put Papio back in front.
Andersen came in with one out in the third and promptly set down nine consecutive Millard South batters. After issuing a one-out walk in the seventh to Kinney, Andersen got Kinney's sister Valerie and Sturgeon on fly outs.
The final run came on the most impressive hit of the game. Papio catcher Lauren McNeil, who normally doesn't hit, was forced into the batting order after shortstop Hayleigh Evans had to leave the game with a cut on her arm after sliding into second base.
As the leadoff hitter in the fourth, McNeil crushed one of Jordan Johnson's pitches high and deep at least 20 feet beyond the left field fence for an insurance run.
“That's nice to see for a senior who works her tail off and doesn't get a lot of chances to hit,” Petersen said. “It's one of those good things that happen to good people.”
Millard South (5-2) ............................ 003 000 0—3 6 3
Papillion-La Vista (8-0) ............................ 202 100 x—5 9 1
W: Julia Andersen. L: Jordan Johnson. 2B: MS, Leah Kalkwarf. PLV, Gina Metzler, Sam Dellinger. HR: MS, Madi Unzicker, Jordyn Sturgeon. PLV, Lauren McNeil.