The Western Nebraska Community College and Lamar Community College softball teams combined for 20 runs and 29 hits in the rubber match of their best-of-three Region IX semifinal playoff series.
In the end, Lamar's Kelsee Bushell hit a seventh inning 3-run home run and the Lopes withstood a Cougar seventh-inning rally to down WNCC 11-9 to advance to the Region IX championship series. Lamar will face Trinidad State Junior College, who earned a walk-off 10-9 win over Otero Junior College on Tuesday.
"I am proud of our team and the fight they showed throughout the year," WNCC coach Katelyn Groves said. "It's always hard to watch a season come to a close, but I'm so proud of their fight and ability to persevere throughout the season. Wish things would have ended up in our favor but Lamar played well and with a ton of heart, credit to them."
Emily Selby, one of the seven sophomores on the team, said while it hurts a little that they lost to end the season, what they gained from their actions on and off the field makes the team a winner.
"We faced numerous trials and tribulations this past year, but we made it work. Great teams have ways of finding success when given adversity and this has been a great team with great successes," she said. "There was a long stretch in the season where we went down to one pitcher and only ten healthy players but we never really felt worried about it. If anything, it taught us how to dig deep and to play for each other. People had their doubts about how our season would unfold, but I think this team had a great run and one that silenced a lot of those doubts. Despite the scoreboard of that final game, I know that we all walked away winners in the lessons we learned this year and the relationships that we built with our teammates, school, and community."
Selby said Tuesday's game was a matter of the ball not bouncing their way.
"We didn't get the win but I think all anyone can ask for is a fight, and we put up a pretty good one," she said. "Sure, there were some things we could have done better, but sometimes the ball just doesn't bounce in your favor. Lamar is a good team and they had some timely hitting that got the job done for them. Losses always hurt the most in the postseason, and especially on home turf, but we have nothing to hang our heads about because we left it all on the field today."
The third game was set up because both teams split contests on Monday. WNCC won the first game 9-6 before Lamar captured the second game 9-6 to force the if-necessary game. Tuesday's contest was a back and forth contest between two evenly matched teams with both teams fighting to the end.
Lamar struck first, scoring three in the first on five straight singles. WNCC came back with three in the first of their own on singles by Celyn Whitt, Julia Suchan, and Emily Selby to tie the game at 3-3.
The Runnin' Lopes came back with a three spot in the third and a single run in the fourth for a 7-5 lead. WNCC fought right back, scoring twice in the bottom of the fourth. Suchan singled followed by a Jackson double. Oxford followed with a run-scoring double and then Emily Selby had a sacrifice fly to tie the game at seven.
Both teams scored a single run in the fifth. The seventh was intense. Lamar started the seventh with three straight hits, including a 3-run home run by Bushell in a rain shower to put the Lopes up 11-8.
WNCC fought back in the bottom. Ana Apodaca started things by reaching on an error followed by a walk by Payten Davies. Whitt came through with a single to score one run, but WNCC couldn't get another hit to fall as Lamar closed out the game.
WNCC finished the game with 12 hits. Celyn Whitt finished the game with three hits, including a double, two runs scored and a RBI.
Suchan, Jackson, Oxford, and Selby each had two hits. Jackson had two doubles with two runs scored and three RBIs, while Oxford had a double with two RBIs.
WNCC loses seven sophomores from this team in Selby, Wessel, Oxford, Whitt, Davies, Apodaca, and Cassie Jones. Selby said it will be hard for the sophomores not to wear the blue and gold next season, but they had a great ride.
"Being able to play Cougar softball at WNCC these past two years has been an experience that I wouldn't trade for anything," she said. "There is a lot of pride that comes from playing for this program, as well as years of tradition that we can now say that we helped build. Playing at a junior college is both a blessing and a curse because you get an opportunity to play with a completely different team than the year before and you build relationships and make memories with one set of girls, only to say goodbye to them and do it all over again with new teammates.
"I was blessed at WNCC with teammates that I have grown to know and love, coaches that relentlessly challenged me and pushed me to improve, and a community of faithful supporters that followed us through thick and thin. It is strange to think that I have played my last game at Volunteer Field and will never have the opportunity to wear a WNCC jersey again, but I'll always hold those memories close to my heart. Once a Cougar, Always a Cougar!"
Lamar 303 110 3 – 11 17 2
WNCC 320 210 1 – 9 12 2