KING CITY, Mo. — Northeast Nodaway has been where South Holt was this regular season, very recently.
After winning just one game the past two seasons, the Bluejays made a 15-win jump this year with a 16-6 regular season and a share of the 275 Conference championship. The Bluejays are one of the most improved teams in the state no matter how you slice it, but that didn't do much to take the sting off a 3-2 loss to South Holt in the first round of the district tournament on Tuesday night in King City.
“We are learning,” Northeast Nodaway coach Vance Proffitt said. “Offensively, we can't be that inconsistent and expect to win close games. We pushed our luck a lot this year with some close games and it came around to bite us in the butt today.
“We've come a long ways, and it is hard to look at it now and completely grasp that because we've come so far and we expect to do certain things. Got to give all the credit in the world to South Holt. They played better than us.”
South Holt entered Tuesday night winless and had faced Northeast Nodaway three times during the regular season, losing 19-0, 15-0 and 11-1. Tuesday night was a different story though.
It was a much later story as well with the games being pushed back to earlier in the day and then Stanberry needing nine innings to knock off King City. The Jays and Knights didn't start their game until nearly 9 p.m., on a chilly, rainy night.
It was a pitchers' duel early with Northeast Nodaway standout freshman Hadley DeFreece not allowing a hit through the first three innings. On the other side, South Holt senior Laini Sisk allowed just one hit in that span.
The fourth inning allowed the offenses to find a little momentum with South Holt getting a single by senior Kesney Miller and being scored on a double by junior Zoey Prussman.
The Bluejays responded in the home half with freshman Baylie Busby leading off with a single. DeFreece walked and created some chaos on the basepaths which allowed Busby to score.
DeFreece struck out the side in the fifth inning. She finished with seven innings, four hits allowed, one earned run, 13 strikeouts and a walk.
“She shook some rust off early, got back in it, and I thought she hit a groove,” Proffitt said. “I called a couple of crappy pitches that hurt us. I have to do better for her.”
Northeast Nodaway senior Kirsten Morrow led off the fifth with a walk, then with two outs, Jaden Atkins tripled to center field, but a good relay throw cut down Morrow at the plate to keep the score tied. South Holt didn't commit any errors in a sharp game by the Knights defensively.
Knight senior Rayleigh Guyer took a 2-0 pitch over the left-field fence for a home run to leadoff the sixth inning. DeFreece got out of the inning with no further damage.
Busby sparked another rally in the bottom of the sixth with a one-out single. Meredith Adwell doubled to put runners on second and third with one out. Busby and Adwell each had two hits in the game.
DeFreece then hit a softball as hard as she possibly could straight up the middle, which for a split-second sounded and looked like it would give the Jays that elusive first lead, but that was denied as Sisk's reflexes took over and the pitcher caught the screaming liner.
Busby scored on a passed ball, but the damage was limited and Adwell stranded at third base.
While South Holt was clean defensively all night, Northeast Nodaway committed three errors with two of them coming at the worst time.
With one out, Sisk hit a lazy fly ball into the outfield, but a communication error and a ball popping out of the glove resulted in the ball hitting the grass. DeFreece got the next batter to ground out back to her, but with two outs, the Knights' No. 9 hitter grounder to shortstop and a rushed throw resulted in a 2-base error and the go-ahead run to score.
The bottom of the seventh was the first 1-2-3 inning for Sisk since the third frame and South Holt's senior-laden roster was able to celebrate its first win of the season in its biggest game.
“You keep trying to pet the bear and eventually it is going to bite you,” Proffitt said. “It got us. We fought hard until the end and it just wasn't our night. We have to get better starting tomorrow.”
For the Jays, they start one senior, four juniors, a sophomore and three freshmen, so the future remains bright, but Proffitt hopes they take a lesson from Tuesday night.
“If we are not getting better every day then we are taking two steps back, and this program can't afford to take two steps back because it was in some dark places,” Proffitt said. “If we are serious about rebuilding this thing, we have to work hard all offseason. I'm excited to see what happens. This group could be special.”
The game is the last for Morrow who graduates as the lone senior on the conference championship squad.
“She has set a tone of work ethic,” Proffitt said. “She has come a long ways from being a bench player to now starting all season long. We are sad to see her go.”