CONCORDIA, Kansas — The light switch flipped on April 13. Sitting at 10-17 overall and in 12th place in the Region VI standings, the Cloud County Community College softball team had a choice to make: phone it in or fight back.
In the 16 days since, the T-Birds rallied to earn the right to host a first-round playoff series and have won 11 of their last 14 games. None have been bigger than back-to-back, must-win games against Fort Scott Community College on Saturday and Sunday to take the best-of-three series, 2-1, in the first round of the Region VI DII Softball District E Championships.
"The girls turned the corner by playing better defense, getting some timely hits, and we received great pitching during this stretch," said Cloud County head coach, Aaron Acree. "The girls wanted to play on their home field (in the playoffs) and they did it. For them to keep plugging away and working to make it happen means a lot."
After dropping the first game of the series 2-0 to open play on Saturday, and trailing 6-3 down to their final three outs of Game Two, the T-Birds (21-20 overall) showed the same resiliency as they rallied for four runs in the home-half of the seventh inning in Game Two to steal a 7-6 victory.
A two-run home run from sophomore catcher Kayla West had made up the majority of Cloud County's offense through the first six innings prior to the late rally.
Sophomore pitcher Jordan Ummel then delivered the walk-off RBI single to score Adams, forcing Sunday's Game Three.
"We had spent the entire game trying to pull the ball and I asked the girls before the seventh 'What got you here?'" Acree said. "They answered 'hitting up the middle and to the opposite field.' I told them 'Let's do that then,' and they figured it out. Once they got rolling, it was tough to stop us."
Ummel's impact on the series was far from over as, with the T-Birds trailing 1-0 through three innings of Game Three, she came on in relief and delivered four scoreless frames en route to picking up the victory.
The sophomore threw a total of 11 innings over the two days, allowed just two runs, none earned and struck out six Fort Scott hitters.
"I know she's hurting, but she gutted it out," said Acree of Ummel. "She wanted to finish and I'm proud of her because she's been through the training room a lot this year. She persevered and came through for us."
The Cloud County offense then got on the plus-side in the home-half of the fourth inning, taking advantage of an error and passed ball by Fort Scott in the frame, on a clutch two-out, two-run single by freshman first baseman Alyssa Corpus that scored Ummel and sophomore Nicole Dinkel.
"That was a huge at-bat," said Acree of Corpus. "She came through big time for us in that situation, allowing us to capitalize on the passed ball that put two runners in scoring position."
Fort Scott threatened to tie or take the lead in the sixth inning as the first two runners reached, but the T-Birds were able to work out of the jam unscathed.
Ummel then tossed a quick 1-2-3 seventh inning to put a bow on the 2-1 final and send the T-Birds off to the NJCAA DII Softball District E Championships, held at Hummer Park in Topeka, for the first time since 2014 when Cloud County assistant Madi Bryant was in uniform.
The T-Birds will begin the double-elimination tournament at 12 p.m. Saturday against Cowley College (34-13 overall) on the North Field. Cloud County will play again at 4 p.m. Saturday win or lose.
"It's going to be a great atmosphere, with a lot of fans and coaches watching. I'm glad these girls will get to experience it," Acree said. "And if we can continue to play the way we have, we'll have a shot."