TOPEKA — Westview softball is partying like it’s 2007 after Monday’s NECC Tournament final.
For the first time in 14 years, the Warriors are NECC Tournament champions after handling Prairie Heights 8-2 behind an offensive clinic in the third inning and another solid outing from pitcher Alexys Antal.
“It means a lot,” Westview coach Jeremy Williams said. “I’m hoping we just take this as a stepping stone, because I don’t want us to settle and be happy with this. I want us to take this and keep going and going as far as I know we can go. We want to get that first sectional title and conference title. I don’t want this to be our big moment. We have tons more to make.”
A solid pitching matchup between Antal and Prairie Heights starter Kiana Allshouse was the story during the first couple innings of play. Neither pitcher surrendered a hit through the bottom of the second, with both combining for nine strikeouts during that time.
After only scoring two runs through the first two games of the tournament, Westview’s bats finally got hot during the bottom of the third. The Warriors scored six runs on four hits in the frame after making the necessary adjustments against Allshouse.
“It seems like that is our style this year,” said Williams when asked about his team’s hitting. “First time through, it’s like we’re just kind of waking up; second time through, we’re fully awake, and we start taking advantage of things that we should be taking advantage of the first time. But I’ll keep taking it as long as we keep it rolling and getting better.”
Savana Strater came through first with a two-RBI double to center that scored Jocelynn Schrock and Sara Lapp to make it 2-0. During the next at-bat, Antal brought home Strater after a line drive single made its way into center field.
Later in the inning, Addie Bender joined in on the hitting spree by sending an RBI double deep into center field to plate Antal. A wild pitch from Allshouse, combined with an RBI groundout by Hope Bortner, scored Brianna Caldwell and Bender to round out the half inning.
“It was great to see the bats alive,” Williams said. “The (first) two (tournament) games were 1-0, 1-0, and we had opportunities but our bats weren’t alive like they were (Monday). That’s the way I expect us to hit every game, but we’re just not being patient in the box. … I told them that the only thing that’s keeping them from hitting the ball all over the place is they’re just not waiting on it. So finally, we set back, waited, the balance and power was there, and that’s when we started hitting.”
The run support produced in the third was more than enough with Antal in the circle. The junior pitched all seven innings, gave up just two earned runs on two hits while striking out 20 Prairie Heights batters on the night. She now has 157 strikeouts through 11 games so far this season.
Antal’s one mistake of the game — a two-run home run by Prairie Heights first baseman Kalli Aaron — cut the Westview lead to four in the top of the fourth, but the Warriors added a couple more runs of their own during the bottom half of the inning to stretch the lead back to six.
The Warriors were led by Strater (2-for-4, two RBI), Antal (3-for-3, two RBI), Caldwell (2-for-4, RBI) and Bender (1-for-3, RBI) at the plate. The quartet combined for eight of the team’s 10 hits on Monday night.
Westview’s now sitting at 9-2 and playing with a huge amount of momentum and confidence with the postseason just a few weeks away.
“Big-time confidence,” said Williams when asked what this tournament performance does for his team moving forward. “We won 1-0 games two times in a row and left a lot of runners on base. There were moments where I think an old Westview team wouldn’t have that mentality to fight. Their shoulders would go down, and they’d start to give up. This year, we’re showing a different mentality, which is something I’ve been preaching all season long. … These girls have all the talent in the world, almost all the teams do, but it’s that confidence that sets them apart. And I think that’s what we’re building heading into the postseason.”