Wichita,Kan.—Two dominating shut outs in the semifinals brought Bishop Carroll against St. Thomas Aquinas in the 5A state softball championship. The Golden Eagles had returned to defend their state title. With a team featuring mostly sophomores and juniors with one senior, Carroll’s ability to play beyond its years earned them title number two 4-1.
Carroll sophomore pitcher Jessica Haffner controlled the mound for the Golden Eagles. She stepped up as one of their key young leaders. A scoreless first inning led to a heart-pumping second. Haffner let up and allowed St. Thomas Aquinas runners to get on second and third. A critical junction in the game for the Golden Eagles, although early, and junior Shelby Craig made a diving catch in the gap to end the inning.
“There were two outs before there were two people on base,” Craig said. “Everyone was very rattled. Then to get that pop fly and the diving catch just was a lot off our shoulders.”
That would not be her only game changer. The Golden Eagles defense kept the game scoreless until they returned to bat in the top of the fifth inning. The Carroll offense that had averaged 12 points per game during the regular season emerged.
“You know, this whole season has been our hitting, hitting, hitting, and they came through big,” said Carroll head coach Angie DalPozzo. “I mean, we had Shelby in the nine hole, who hit a bomb for us, which is fantastic.”
Once again Craig came through in the clutch. She cranked a two-run homer, easily ten yards over the left field fence. Bishop Carroll ended their offensive stand ahead 3-0.
“At first we weren’t really putting the ball in play,” Craig said. “It was a rise ball and I just took it. After that it turned out to be a really big boost for the entire team.”
Carroll made a critical move and changed their starting pitcher with junior Katelynn Smith in the sixth inning. DalPozzo said it ended up working out for the best.
“The main reason was to switch it up,” she said. “Our first girl, Jesse, throws hard and Katelynn throws softer, so I wanted to mix it up and throw them off a little bit. I think it worked. It was a little scary for a while but it worked.”
Aquinas freshman Casey Campbell would put a question mark on that decision as she hit the first homerun of her high school career. That’s why it was scary at first but that was the only score they would earn in the game.
The seventh inning opened with Carroll ahead 3-1. Carroll’s Kasey Jansen dropped a bunt perfectly in front of home plate and a miscommunication kept her safe at first. But not before Carroll junior Mary Jo Peter got strung out in between second and third. An overthrow over third base resulted in Peter running home for the score. Carroll maintains the lead 4-1 but Aquinas still had a chance.
Their last chance came in the bottom of the seventh with bases loaded and two outs. Aquinas senior Paige Mason popped out and their championship hopes were dashed. The Golden Eagles earned their second-straight state title 4-1 and they have almost the entire roster returning next year.
“It means we pretty much get everybody back next year,” DalPozzo said. “So I am looking at a three-peat. They've worked so hard and most of them are juniors this year so they are coming back as seniors next year so they're expecting to do it all over next year.