HASTINGS, Neb. — Allan Kreikemeier threw a challenge at his team in the third inning of Friday’s Class C state softball championship game.
The West Point GACC coach, who may have been coaching his last game, pushed his players to step up and back pitcher Erin Franzluebber the way she had bolstered them all year.
They responded with a vengeance.
The Bluejays (29-3) blasted four third-inning home runs, leading to seven runs, as they rolled to a 12-0, three-inning win over Kearney Catholic to claim the state title.
“I told them that inning there would be no offspeed swings and for them to just tee it up,” the 14th-year coach said. “It was just awesome to see them respond like that.”
Top-seeded GACC marched back through the losers bracket after losing its opening-round matchup to Central City on Wednesday. Kearney Catholic (30-7) advanced to Friday’s championship unscathed before GACC won the opening championship game 7-3, forcing the decisive tilt.
“When Thursday morning came around, the kids were a little tight,” Kreikemeier said. “But after we won that first game Thursday morning, they put their eyes on the prize and said that every other team was going to have to see why we were the No. 1 team.”
The Bluejays worked their way through Auburn, Malcolm and Fairbury on Thursday and Wahoo Neumann on Friday before squaring off with the Stars.
First-year Stars coach Jon Ruyle praised GACC as a program he wants to emulate.
“They set the tone for what I want,” he said. “It is great to get here. But I am a competitive soul. My goal is to learn what we need to do to get back here year after year after year.”
GACC laid out the blueprint for a state championship by giving up only nine runs in its six wins while scoring 48 runs.
“We felt like we could string things together,” said Kreikemeier, whose Bluejays also won state in 2014. “I have been doing this a lot of years and I am probably going out with this one. This really does top it off.”
GACC broke through in the top of the first when Brenna Rief, who had reached on an error, scored on a wild pitch.
The Bluejays pushed the lead to 5-0, scoring four runs in the second inning, on four straight RBI singles by Kayla Fischer, Livia Hunke, Rief and Avery Kreikemeier.
The big cushion allowed Franzluebber to challenge the Kearney Catholic hitters as she needed just 33 pitches, while striking out three and tossing a one-hitter in the three-inning game.
“Since the start of the season that team has been the top dogs,” Ruyle said. “I hope we get to that level and get to do this again some day.”
The Stars advanced to their first state championship in just their third season of softball. They did all this while overcoming the loss of the program’s first coach, Russ Hiemstra, who died in May after suffering a stroke.
“This community has worked really hard to make the memory of Russ mean something,” Ruyle said.
West Point GACC (29-3).......147—12 10 0
Kearney Catholic (30-7).......000— 0 1 2
W-: Erin Franzluebber. L: Bralen Biddlecome. 2B: GACC, Kate Gnad. HR: GACC, Aubrey Kreikemeier, Avery Kreikemeier, Leah Jansen, Kayla Fischer
Kearney Catholic.......000 021 0—3 10 2
West Point GACC.......130 030 X—7 9 1
W: Erin Franzluebber. L: Bralen Biddlecome. 2B: KC, Payton Schimmer, Olivia Nore
West Point GACC (26-3).....000 36—9 9 1
Wahoo Neumann (27-9).....001 00—1 2 3