KANSAS CITY, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College softball team had its 2019 season came to a close Saturday in the first round of the Region VI Division II District D Tournament, falling by the final scores of 6-4 and 9-0 to host Kansas City Kansas Community College.
A bang-bang play at first base in pivotal Game One would play a major role, not only in the first game, but in the series for the T-Birds (11-29 overall).
Holding a 4-2 lead at the time, Cloud County had what it thought was the second out of the inning on a bunt attempt by the Blue Devils' third baseman, Alaina Howe.
She was ruled safe and KCKCC (36-18 overall) capitalized, with five straight hits en route to a four-run sixth inning that put the Blue Devils on top for good at 6-4.
"We felt it was a bad call at first base and it changed the whole complexion of that inning and the game," said Cloud County head coach, Aaron Acree. "It got them (KCKCC) on a roll. Then we were left with just three outs to work with in the top of the seventh. We knew we had to get the first game to get momentum, put the pressure on with us playing at their facility. It was just very unfortunate."
The big inning for KCKCC spoiled what had been an excellent start up until that point by freshman right-hander Mattison Hogrefe, who entered the innings allowing just two runs on six hits.
"Mattison did her job of holding their offense down," Acree said. "She pitched well enough to win (Saturday). Unfortunately, we were just unable to get enough run support."
Offensively, the T-Birds were led by the top four in their batting order as leadoff hitter freshman Emily Wells was 2-for-4 with a run scored, while fellow freshman Mikayla Bletscher was 1-for-4 with a run, Hogrefe was 1-for-3 with two runs scored, and freshman cleanup hitter Jacie Marcotte went 2-for-3 with three RBI.
Freshman shortstop Kennedy Doherty added the seventh hit for the T-Birds in Game One with a 1-for-2 performance out of the No. 7 spot.
Cloud County took its 4-2 lead with a three-run fifth inning, two of which came home on the second double of the game by Marcotte.
The T-Birds were unable to shake the momentum swing of Game One in the nightcap as KCKCC took an early 2-0 lead in the first inning and controlled the game from there en route to a 9-0 victory to win the series.
Cloud County was limited to a pair of hits in Game Two, singles by Marcotte and sophomore Payton Gillen, as the T-Birds were held at bay by the uptick in velocity they saw from KCKCC starting pitcher, Mackenzie Pinkerton.
"After facing an off-speed pitcher in Game One, KCK threw a girl with some velocity in Game Two and we struggled to adjust," Acree said. "We hit a lot of balls right at people."
While the losses on Saturday were disappointing, Acree said he is encouraged by what the 2019-2020 school year might bring for this team after seeing the team battle the adversity of playing their first 24 games out on the road.
The Cloud County offense, set to return seven freshmen that combined for 114 of the team's 143 RBIs this season, finished with the eighth fewest strikeouts in the KJCCC. The T-Birds also saw its team batting average go up from .259 last season to .281, as well as a spike in home runs with 19 this spring compared to just four a season ago.
"I sure am," said Acree when asked if he's encouraged by what he saw from his freshman class this season. "Our strikeouts are down from last year, our hitting numbers are up, and we have a lot of the RBIs in our lineup back for next year. Sometimes you go through growing pains, but it also builds character. I really believe they'll grow from it."
Acree added the T-Birds will miss the contributions of their sophomore class, which included Gillen as the starting third baseman, outfield starters Kelsey Bowers and Shania Schraad, pitcher and part-time first baseman Alyssa Corpus, and super utility player Mikayla Leakey.
"We're definitely going to miss our five sophomores. That wasn't the way we wanted to send them out," Acree said. "We had success with a lot of them last year and this year was just a tough year with all the traveling and limited practice. They'll be missed and we'll just have to regroup with higher expectations and fulfillments next year."