Last September, Royals center fielder Justin Maxwell hit a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the 10th inning of Kansas City’s home-finale. Great Bend senior Kenna Mauler’s two-out walk-off slam against Hays was slightly less dramatic – the Panthers needed just one more run to complete a run-rule – but the hit was a nice way for six Lady Panther seniors to end the final scheduled doubleheader in Great Bend this spring.
The doubleheader featured two 11-1 teams, both vying for the Western Athletic Conference title. Great Bend took game one 4-1, then turned up the offense with a 14-3 game-two win in six innings. The Lady Panthers complete the WAC schedule at 7-1 for at least a share of the conference title. They split with Garden City on Thursday and need a Lady Buffalo loss to take the title outright.
“We knew Garden City is a good team, but the girls felt like they had something to prove today,” said Great Bend Coach Carrie Minton. “We’ve heard all year long that Hays is going to be really good and Garden City is going to be really good. We just wanted to make sure people didn’t forget about us.”
Hays junior Hannah Hearld was supposed to be the dominate pitcher in game one. Instead, Lady Panther junior Braylin Bretz turned in the dominant performance, striking out three and allowing just five hits after throwing three perfect innings to open the game. She did get some help from center fielder Kaylie Doll, who complete a double play with a throw-out at home to end the fourth inning.
Hearld allowed just one hit the first time through the Panther order – a solo home run from junior Hunter Middleton. In the third inning, Hearld had two outs in the book before senior Kaylie Doll hustled out an infield single. Senior Kelsie Doll followed with an RBI-double, then junior Dakota Sanders hit the first of two home runs on the day.
“Hunter’s home run was off a rise ball and it did,” Hays Coach Abby Maska said. “It started to rise up and she just got all on it. I’m going to give credit to their hitters. I think Hannah did fine today. She struggled with some finger issues today on the rise ball but I still thought she threw a pretty good game. Great Bend’s hitters were dialed in and when we missed or something was flat, they jumped on it.”
Hearld also paced the Lady Indian offense with two hits, including an RBI double that scored senior Haley Wells in the fourth inning.
Middleton, Mauler, and Kelsie Doll each had two hits for the Panthers. Sanders led the team with two RBIs.
Middleton got the start for Great Bend in game two. Hays seemed to have her figured out early on, but two base-running errors in the first end kept the Indians off the board. Middleton got stronger from there, throwing all six innings and allowing just three earned runs on nine hits while striking out seven.
Middleton had plenty of run support. Sanders, Middleton, and Tarynn Stueder each singled in runs off Hearld in the first. Kacee Kasselman and Kaylie Doll reached on errors to open the second, and both came around to score. Sanders added her second home run, this time over the scoreboard in center field, for a 6-0 lead after two innings.
“She just threw it where we could hit and we took advantage of it,” Sanders said of the Hays ace.
Middleton gave up a run in the third, then ran into trouble in the fifth inning with the bases loaded and no outs. The hard-hitting Hearld came up an out later and smashed a double down the left field line that scored Nicole Dinkel and Wells. That was all Hays would get.
“Hearld is a phenomenal hitter,” Minton said. “You just want to make sure you keep everybody in front of her in the lineup in check. That way you don’t get yourself into a jam. We did at one point but we handled it really well.”
The Panthers picked up two more runs in the bottom of the fifth. With two outs, pinch hitter Lauren Welsch belted an 0-2 pitch over the scoreboard.
In the sixth inning, Great Bend loaded the bases with two outs against Hays sophomore Madison Prough. Mauler just needed a hit or walk to end the game via run-rule, but she made things a little more special by taking her 2-2 pitch over the fence in left field for the walk-off grand slam.
“I was just looking to get a base hit and an RBI, just anything to get that run in,” the senior said. “Right when it left the bat I knew.”
Mauler finished the game 2-for-4 with four RBIs and two runs. She also reached on an error. Sanders went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs and the home run. Middleton also had two hits, and Elizabeth Barber walked twice and singled.
Hearld threw two innings in game two, striking out four and allowing four earned runs on five hits. Prough pitched the final 3.2 innings, striking out three, walking three, and giving up the four earned runs on the grand slam.
Wells and Albany Schaffer, batting in the top two spots, each had two hits for Hays. Dinkel added a pair of hits in the nine-hole.
With two WAC losses, the Indians fall out of the league race, but they sit at 11-3 overall with the other loss coming to Salina South.
“If you’re going to lose, it’s good to lose to a really solid team – a team that’s coached really well,” Maska said. “Those seniors have been fun to watch over the last four years, even from a rivalry standpoint.”
Great Bend improves to 13-1 and needs a Garden City conference loss to take the league title.