Keith Engelkamp had a simple request of his Omaha Skutt softball team before Friday afternoon’s Class B-2 district final against Elkhorn South.
“I just asked our kids if we could not go extra innings, because we played them extra innings three times already,” Engelkamp said. “That’s how evenly matched we are. ... It’s just a battle of wills.”
The SkyHawks not only avoided extra innings but also remained unbeaten against Elkhorn South this season. Skutt scored twice in the bottom of the fifth to earn a 3-1 win at Ralston’s Wager Field.
The win moved the SkyHawks, the top-ranked team in Class B, to the state tournament for the sixth consecutive season. Skutt won the state title in 2011.
The Storm, ranked second in Class B, were expected to receive a wild card to state, which begins Wednesday in Hastings. Four of their five losses this season are to Skutt — that included Thursday’s district winners bracket final when the SkyHawks broke a scoreless tie with five runs in the eighth inning.
“They always give us a really, really good game,” Skutt senior Kaylan Jablonski said. “It’s just fun playing them.”
Jablonski played a big role in Skutt’s most recent win.
The right-hander threw a three-hitter, allowing only four hitters to reach base. And in the fifth inning, she doubled home the tiebreaking run and later scored an insurance run.
“She’s just so tough,” Elkhorn South coach Terry Graver said. “She looked like she got stronger as the game went on.”
The Storm did get to Jablonski in the top of the first as senior Corrin Ziepke hit a long home run to left field. Graver said that marked the first time his team has led Skutt this season.
“Corrin’s a good hitter. It’s always hard to pitch to her,” Jablonski said. “After that, I just had to settle in a little bit.”
Skutt tied it with a run in the bottom of the second. The SkyHawks loaded the bases with no outs and scored when Darya Kaboli-Nejad grounded into a fielder’s choice.
Elkhorn South missed a scoring chance in the fourth. Maddy Ethen led off with a double and was bunted to third with one out. But Jablonski got the next two batters to hit infield pop outs.
The winning rally in the fifth started with a Kaboli-Nejad single. Jablonski followed with an RBI double to center and, with one out, she scored on a squeeze bunt by Alyssa Stevens.
“They put pressure on you,” Graver said. “They find ways to score runs.”
No Storm batter reached second base during the final three innings. Jablonski retired 12 of the last 14 she faced.
“She’s just a tremendous player,” Engelkamp said. “And besides her ability on the field, she’s a great leader. That’s one of the things we’ll miss most (next season).”
Skutt heads to state on a 12-game winning streak. The SkyHawks have allowed seven runs total during that streak.
Elkhorn South (25-5) ............................ 100 000 0—1 3 3
Omaha Skutt (24-4) ............................ 010 020 x —3 4 0
W: Jablonski. L: Ferrell. 2B: ES, Ethen. OS: Jablonski. HR: ES, Ziepke.
Elkhorn South 6, Ralston 5
The Storm reached the championship game Friday morning thanks to a seventh-inning rally.
Elkhorn South led 4-1 in the sixth inning before Barbara Billingsley blasted a grand slam to dead center off Liv Ferrell. But in the top of the seventh, the Storm loaded the bases and, with two outs, Ethen delivered a two-run single to center.