There were plenty of high-fives, countless hugs and enough tears to fill the most parched river.
That’s the gamut of emotions associated with ending 27 years of frustration.
The McPherson High softball team on Tuesday did what no other Bullpup team had done before.
With a 10-5 doubling of tradition-rich Andale-Garden Plain at Grant Complex, the 16-6 Bullpups will enter a grand new world with a trip next week to Salina for the Class 4A Division I State Tournament.
For MHS coach Danica Fitzmorris, the full circle is now complete. She was a sophomore and the best player on the very first Bullpup team in 1987, one reason the program started in the first place. Now in her first year as head coach, she helped the Bullpups end the drought and sent the monkey flying off their back. MHS had lost back-to-back regional championship games before Tuesday.
“It’s very emotional,” said Fitzmorris, who tried to fight back the tears before being doused with a bucket of water by her excited team. “I knew they could do it. We kept our heads the whole game and we played defense well.”
The Bullpups had to overcome two mental obstacles, their own haunting postseason history as well as trying to overcome the legacy that is Andale-Garden Plain softball, as the Indians are a former state champion and one of state’s blue-blood programs.
Madison Hoffman, however, had ice water in her veins on the mound, extricating herself out of jams time and again. While she gave up her fair share of hits (13), her ability to field her position was huge, including igniting a 1-2-3 double play in the fourth inning that proved to be the final nail. Andale-Garden Plain had loaded the bases with nobody out, but Hoffman induced Kylie Winsor to hit a ball back to the mound, with Hoffman throwing to catcher Jasmine Wann, who in turn rifled a throw to Hannah Marshall. Hoffman then got the third out and the Bullpups were able to massage the lead the rest of the way.
The game basically was decided in the second inning. Down 1-0, Bullpup freshman Gracy Feil delivered a key two-run single, the kick-start to a seven-run salvo. Wann, Nicole Cheek and Marissa Axelson had other key hits in the inning, while Chelsey Kerr scored on a four-base error.
Fitzmorris said the hit by Feil turned the inning around as she stroked a perfectly placed single to right field.
MHS added two more runs in the third to lead 9-1 and scored a run in the sixth just in case.
A-GP chipped away late with runs in the fifth and sixth as well as two in the seventh when three straight hitters singled with two outs. But the steady Hoffman got the final out on a popup that landed in the mitt of Wann and the celebration was on.
“I can’t say there was really a bad play,” Fitzmorris said, as her team’s defense was superb in both games and the hitting timely. It’s (the streak) over. We’ve got to keep going.”
What made this Bullpup team so difficult to defend was that 1 through 9 in the order contributed. In the championship game, it was Feil in the 6-hole who came up immense with three RBIs. Hoffman, Wann and Kerr all had two hits and Axelson drove in two runs. Hoffman, Kerr and Axelson were superb defensively.
Hoffman always seemed to come up with the key pitch. Bayley Horsch was a thorn in her side, though, with a triple, double and two singles as MHS had no answer for her.
• MHS 14, Buhler 3 — To reach the finals, the Bullpups hammered Buhler in five innings.
Kerr was phenomenal by going 4 for 4 with four RBIs to send her batting average over the .500 mark. Hoffman was 2 for 4 and scored four runs, while Wann was 2 for 4 with three RBIs. Brooke Schrag, from the No. 8 hole, also drove in three with a clutch triple. Kerr and Hoffman also tripled, and Kerr and Wann smoked doubles.
Elle Schrag navigated through the five innings to pick up the win. Again, the Bullpup defense was excellent. Schrag scattered nine hits and walked only two.
Andale had advanced with a 10-0 victory over Ulysses.
State pairings will be announced once all the regionals are completed. At least two have not finished.
Vs. Andale-Garden Plain
MHS (10) — Hoffman 3-1-2-1, Axelson 4-1-1-2, Kerr 3-2-2-0, Wann 4-1-2-0, Marshall 3-2-1-0, Feil 3-1-1-3, Farney 4-1-1-1, Cheek 2-1-1-0, Stockham 2-0-0-0, Pacey 1-0-0-0, B. Schrag 0-0-0-0.
MHS (14) — Hoffman 2-4-2-1, Axelson 3-2-0-0, Kerr 4-2-4-4, Wann 4-2-2-3, Marshall, 1-1-0-1, Feil 2-1-0-0, Farney 3-1-1-1, B. Schrag 3-0-1-3, Cheek 3-1-1-0, E. Schrag 0-0-0-0.