SALINA — The way things started for Wamego on Thursday, things were looking good for the Red Raiders at the Class 4A-D1 state softball tournament in Salina.
But by the bottom of the first inning, state newcomers McPherson looked like they were going to run away with a win at Bill Burke Park.
The No. 2-seeded Bullpups led 7-1 after two innings, but the Red Raiders never stopped fighting, coming all the way back before losing 10-8.
No. 7-seeded Wamego (11-12) got off to a good start with a leadoff double from Caitlyn Claussen, who scored on a single from Savannah Brown when Bullpup (17-6) third baseman Stevie Stockham collided with Claussen in the base paths.
Wamego sent freshman pitcher Ashley Faiola to the circle in the bottom of the first, but eight pitches into the game she watched McPherson’s Maddie Hoffman soar a home run over the left field fence. With gusty winds blowing out toward left field, the next batter took advantage as Marissa Axelson smacked a home run in the same spot.
“I was thinking, ‘Ouch,”’ Wamego coach Phil Quinn said. “Obviously it shook us up and rattled us a little bit. We’re a young and inexperienced ball team. Our pitcher never pitched a competitive game before this, her freshman year in high school. She was a rec-league pitcher, believe it or not.”
McPherson led 4-1 after the first inning thanks to a two-run single from Stephanie Farney. Jasmine Wann hit an RBI single in the second inning, and the Bullpups added another two runs on an error and an RBI double from Hannah Marshall to go ahead 7-1.
Wamego chipped in its second run of the game in the third when a sac bunt from Taylor Cooper and a throwing error allowed Claussen to score all the way from first.
McPherson added two more runs via the long ball in the fourth inning, as Wann hit a two-run home run to dead center field.
“We’ve been a long-ball hitting team all year long,” said McPherson coach Danica Fitzmorris. “It didn’t surprise me, but then I was worried that the girls drooled a little bit for the long ball, which led to some flyouts. I would rather us have some base hits.”
Wamego’s comeback began in the sixth inning, as the Red Raiders clumped together four straight hits. Bailee Larson and Paige Divine had back-to-back singles, followed by an RBI double from Emmy Landis and a two-run single from pinch hitter Emma Kruse that cut the lead to 9-5.
McPherson added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth after Wann hit a leadoff double and Farney brought her in with a sac fly.
Down 10-5, Wamego got Claussen on to start the inning with an error, and then brought her in on a ball-four wild pitch that put Cooper on first and made it 10-6. Larson doubled to put runners at second and third, and then Divine hit a two-run double to make it 10-8. The final two batters for the Red Raiders each grounded out.
It was just the second time in school history that Wamego played in the state tournament after making a run behind then-freshman pitcher Brittany Finney two seasons ago. Finney, an Oklahoma commit, currently pitches at Bishop Carroll.
Wamego came to state with a roster that featured just two seniors and three juniors playing with seven sophomores and three freshmen.
“I’m so proud of them,” Quinn said. “I’m a first-year coach and we just want to lay the foundation for the next two years, and I think we did that. This year gave us some exposure and experience, so we’ll see what happens next year, and after that.”