OVERLAND PARK — Softball players from Paola, Louisburg and Spring Hill recently participated in “One Last Game” presented by Midwest Sports Productions.
The Lady Panthers, Lady Wildcats and Lady Broncos were among the high school programs across Kansas to have their softball seasons canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“One Last Game” was a seven-inning tournament of area teams, celebrating the class of 2020. Games were held at the Blue Valley Recreation Sports Complex in Overland Park on Wednesday, June 24.
Piper senior Bella Gravatt reached out to Midwest Sports Productions about having a tournament for teams to come back to the field and compete.
Paola, Louisburg and Spring Hill were among 30 area high schools to compete in the tournament. Score was not kept for the games.
Sessions were held in the morning and afternoon. Spring Hill played Blue Valley Southwest in the morning session. Paola played Eudora; and Louisburg played St. James in the afternoon session.
Seniors Madison Bryant, Jenna Collier, Lexi Smail, Aubrey Weatherbie and Kierstan Weitze played in their final game for Paola. Also taking the field for the Lady Panthers were Alexi Chapman, Kate Ediger, Morgan Baska, Bryn Grandon, Jacie Collier, Ava Kehl, Makayla Harper, Eden Troxel and Maggie Kauk, Kimberly Prockish and Melanie Golubski.
Lady Cat seniors playing in their final high school softball game for Louisburg were: Allie Boles, Reilly Ratliff-Belcher, Lauren Cutshaw, Kayla Willey, Gabby Dugger, Kat Coolidge and August Daniels. Brooklyn Diederich, Maggie Ming, Jordyn Mynsed, Mia Wilson and Jada Frazier also represented Louisburg. Nick Chapman was coaching for Louisburg.
The Lady Cats had quite the start, turning a triple play against St. James in the first inning. Boles snared a screaming line drive, touched on the bag at third base to double a runner off and then threw a strike to Coolidge at first for the triple play. Daniels was on the mound.
“It was amazing experience,” coach Chapman said. “I missed being around this group. They are such a fun, hardworking group to be around. It was nice to see glimpses of how good we could have been this season.”
Ming hit a line drive for a triple. Diederich had a base hit to drive her home. Dugger put down a bunt to move Diederich over. Diederich then scored, using her speed to take advantage of an error.
“That was a good spark for us,” Chapman said. “St. James had a great pitcher that tied us up most of the game, but I think the girls held their own. I would have liked to see us in midseason form against that team. I think we would have seen a special team on the field.
“It was nice to be able to honor our seniors and give them the senior recognition they didn’t get,” he said. “I had as many girls from our team sign softballs to give to the girls. It was just something they hopefully keep and remember their time in the program.”
Boles, who plays shortstop and third base, signed a national letter of intent to play softball at Temple College in Temple, Texas.
Paige Cooper was the lone senior playing for the Lady Broncos. Other girls representing Spring Hill were: Gaige Pinkerton, Riahn Pinkerton, Mariah Hess, Julie Hess, Payton Flood, Vanesa Murray, Maggie McNally, Julia Becker, Malia January and Avery Seeling. Spring Hill was coached by Shelly Huber.
“It was really special for us to honor Paige that way,” Huber said. “She has been a team leader on our team for a while.
“We played free substitutions and everyone bats,” she said. “That was just fun. Most of this team played together last year so it was just fun to watch them continue that bond they have. We went into it with two rules: have fun and don’t get hurt.”
McNally, a sophomore, crushed a home run for the Lady Broncos. It was the first of her high school career.
Cooper said the event was one that gave teams from across the state a chance to see their potential.
“Being back with my team was an awesome opportunity to show what we could have been this year,” she said. “The event for me was bittersweet. I knew we were going to be good this year, but sadly we didn’t get a chance to prove it.
“To be honored as Spring Hill’s only senior was really special and meaningful,” Cooper said. “It was an official goodbye to the team I spent four years with and watching everybody’s hard work pay off.”
Cooper, an all-league selection at third base last season, hit .370 with 20 base hits. She had nine doubles and one home run, driving in 15 runs and had 20 runs scored.
Cooper signed a national letter of intent to play softball at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa.
Weitze started the Lady Panthers game on the mound. She was the Tri-County Spotlight Pitcher of the Year her junior season.
“It was a good experience, being able to play one last game for Paola,” Weitze said. “It was very emotional for me, since I have been part of this team for four years. I was happy to make my last appearance on the field under these coaches.”
“The moment they took us out of the game one by one was hard for me because my high school career had come to an end,” she said. “I was honored to be supported by our fans and family on the field one last time.”
Weitze, 16-7, was the Tri-County Spotlight Pitcher of the Year her junior season. She was a first-team Spotlight and first-team Frontier League selection.
She was 16-7 for Paola, leading the Panthers to a third-place finish in the Frontier League and a Class 4A regional championship title. Weitze made 43 put outs and turned a double play. She struck out 123 batters in 106 innings pitched with a 3.084 earned run average. Weitze also helped herself at the plate, batting .434 with nine doubles, four triples, 18 runs batted in and 29 runs scored.
Weitze signed a national letter of intent to play softball at Highland Community College.
Collier, a senior catcher and first baseman, said to be back on the field was simply beyond words.
“Being able to play one last game as a senior was the last thing I expected to happen with all of the coronavirus stuff happening,” Collier said. “I had to be content with the fact that I would no longer be playing softball. When I heard about the event, I instantly ran upstairs and told my parents. I was so excited.
“I loved getting to get back into things with most of the girls,” she said. “It was even more special to have one last game with my sister. The event was fantastic. Even though it was supposed to be for good fun, you could feel the intense energy on the field as you walked on. When they pulled us off the field one by one it was extremely hard, because I wasn’t ready to be done. But we all have a time and a place when it’s time to move on and it was nice to finally have closure.It was so great to walk off with the girls I started playing with when I was a little girl and to finish it together.”
Smail played the hot corner for Paola, flashing some leather with her glove at third base.
“To get back on the field was very special because I got to play with the rest of the seniors one last time,” Smail said. “I had a lot of fun playing with everyone, especially the freshmen I didn’t get to play with yet.”“It felt good to play again for the high school,” she said. “It was sad to know it was our one and only game. Being recognized as a senior coming off the field one last time was very special and unforgettable. It was also very sad knowing that was my last time playing as a Lady Panther.”
Bryant played shortstop for the Lady Panthers.
“It was really fun getting back together,” she said. “I will definitely miss that team more than anything. It was very special for us seniors to do that. It was hard for us seniors to come off the field one by one. It was a very special moment.”
The Lady Cats drew a lot of fan support for One Last Game and had a great afternoon, Cutshaw said.
“I was very thankful to have this opportunity to play one last game,” she said. “It was awesome to be with my teammates on the field and behind the plate to see what could have been and get some closure.”
The Lady Panthers were 6-2 in league play last season and 16-7 overall.
Weatherbie was a first-team all-league selection at outfield. Alexis Chapman, a junior this season, was a first-team selection at outfield.
Weatherbie hit .465 for the Lady Panthers. She had 33 base hits, including eight doubles, two triples and six home runs. Weatherbie drove in 29 runs and scored 28 runs.
Baska delivered one of the Paola highlights against Eudora in “One Last Game,” hitting a solo home run in the third inning.
Louisburg, 10-9 last season, rallied from deficits in two of its regional victories on the way to state.
The Spring Hill Lady Broncos were 4-3 in league action and 11-5 overall, placing fifth in the league.