By Mike Courson
GREAT BEND, Kan. - Western Athletic Conference foes Great Bend and Dodge City each entered Tuesday’s softball game with just one loss. By the end of the day, the Lady Panthers had moved to 4-0 against conference opponents. Great Bend took game one 8-1, then needed just six innings to win game two 15-5.
Great Bend 8, Dodge City 1
The hard-hitting Red Demons have piled on runs this season with 18 or more runs in half their eight games entering Tuesday. That all stopped against Lady Panther senior Hunter Marcum, who kept Dodge City in check for two games.
“Hunter did a great job today taking control of some situations,” said Great Bend coach Carrie Minton. “That’s probably the most runners we’ve allowed on base all year. Dodge is an aggressive team at the plate. I felt like we did a good job defensively of handing the situations we were put into. They had runners in scoring position multiple times and either Hunter came through or our defense came through.”
Dodge City junior Grace Ruehle opened scoring with a solo shot over the center field fence in the second inning. That would be it for the Lady Demons, who left five stranded through the first four innings of play.
“I really can’t complain about our hitting,” Dodge City coach Ashley Podschun said. “We were hitting the ball but it was just right at them. I’m a little bit more disappointing in our defense. Earned run-wise, it should have been a 2-1, maybe 3-1 game. When you make errors behind your pitcher, there’s not a whole lot you can do other than coming back with the bats.”
Great Bend struck for four runs in the third inning. Senior Baylee Beck got things started with a one-out single. A pair of errors kept things moving, and sophomore Kaylee Unruh started a 10-RBI day with a two-run single. Freshman Shailey Clark added an RBI-single as the Lady Panthers took a 4-1 lead.
Unruh added an RBI-single in the fifth after freshman Aleah Urban doubled. Two batters loaded, senior Allison Neeland singled up the middle to drive in two.
Great Bend scored its final run in the sixth inning when Unruh capped a four-RBI game with a single to drive in Urban.
Dodge City saved its biggest threat for last, loading the bases with just one out in the seventh inning. Sophomores Caroline Stephenson and Caroline Williams and senior Reiyna Cevil each singled, but Marcum caught a Dodge City batter looking for her eighth strikeout of the game, then ended the game with a pop up to second base. Marcum allowed eight hits in the win.
“I depend on my team,” she said. “I’m pitching for ground balls, strikeouts, and pop ups. I just depend on my team and they helped me out a lot.”
Unruh led the Lady Panthers with three hits and four RBIs. Clark and Neeland each added two hits against Dodge City senior Emily Stephenson in the circle. Stephenson managed just one strikeout in the loss.
“At the plate, it took us a little bit to get going, but once we got going the girls hit the ball really well,” said Minton. “We took advantage of some great base hits into the outfield and had some girls being aggressive and looking to score.
“Our girls have done a really good job of doing their job at the plate, whether it’s keeping a ball in play or moving runners. I think that’s one of the best jobs they’ve done early in the season at moving runners.”
Great Bend 15, Dodge City 5
The Lady Panthers struck early and often in game two. Despite leaving the bases full in each of the first two innings, Great Bend still led 6-1 after two innings and 8-1 after three.
Great Bend picked up three hits and three walks in the first inning against Demon sophomore Raegan Lopp, who entered the game with an ERA above 11 and with 28 walks in just under 20 innings of work.
Minton had tremendous production out of the top-four batters in her lineup, who combined to go 14 for 18 in game two.
The freshman Urban singled five times and came around to score each time. Unruh went 3 for 3 with a pair of walks, a double, six more RBIs, and three runs scored. Batting in the clean-up spot, senior Emma Cape pounded out three hits, including a double. She drove in three runs.
Dodge City freshman Olivia Ortiz took over in relief in the fourth inning, retiring the first four batters she faced. Great Bend changed that with four runs in the sixth inning.
Marcum again pitched for the win, striking out five in six innings of work. Ruehle continued her assault at the plate with her second home run of the day for the Demons. She added a double and a walk.
Great Bend moves to 5-1 overall, 4-0 in the WAC. Dodge City falls to 7-3 overall.