NO PLACE LIKE HOME — As the Nebraska State Softball Tournament begins today in Hastings, serve this as your warning that you don’t need to do a double take when you watch Hastings St. Cecilia warm up before their 9:00 AM game with Bishop Neumann.
Or any other there after.
All the Bluehawks are there. No one is sick or injured. It’s just that these softball grinders have just ten players. All season. That’s it.
So, coach Ryan Ohnoutka he’s heard (and chuckled) about this almost all season.
“I think pretty much every game this season, I get a pretty funny look from the umpires when we meet before the game,” the coach said. “They don’t believe me when I say we only have one sub.”
When Ohnoutka sent his roster and season stats to NSAA softball director Dan Masters after district play, he promptly received a phone call.
“‘It might be a good idea, coach, to bring up some of your junior varsity players,'” Masters recommended, according to the coach.
“I would if I had any,” Ohnoutka said.
But there is something about this squad — that is 23-11 heading into the Class C tournament — that Ohnoutka loves. And, he’s ready to go to battle with them a few more times at Bill Smith Softball Complex the rest of the week.
“You know, they are just a special group of kids,” Ohnoutka said. “They love being with each other and playing with each other. We are excited to play in Hastings and we know our town and school community will be out to support us.”
The Bluehawks have tested themselves as well. Just three of the losses are to Class C teams and two of them — Guardian Angels Central Catholic and Kearney Catholic — are in the field. The remaining losses are to Class A and B schools.
In just their third year as a program in 2020, St. Cecilia advanced to the state tournament last year, but lost to Arlington and Auburn. Now, building around a five player, junior class HSC hopes for more in 2020.
“We feel like we have benefited from playing some really good competition this year,” Ohnoutka said. “And, I feel like it has helped us here toward the end of the season as we have played more Class C competition. We have been hitting the ball really well lately.”
Success for the Bluehawks has been built around the play of junior catcher Shaye Butler. Butler is batting .508 on the season with 12 home runs and 41 RBI. She had five home runs in the district final series against Freeman where the Bluehawks swept their way to 13-3 and 14-5 run-rule victories. St. Cecilia has outscored their district and sub-state opponents 45-8 in four games.
“Shaye is a key leader for our team,” Ohnoutka said. “She’s a confident player, brings a lot of energy and she’s vocal out on the field.”
It doesn’t stop there, however.
The Bluehawks have eight of their 10 players batting over .300 with three of Shaye’s other four classmates batting over .400 as well. Tayelor Butler leads the Hawks with 43 RBI with Bailey Kissinger (.491), Kiersten Kober (.477) and Olivia Kvols (.409) all batting over the .400 mark.
As a group they have accounted for driving in 165 of the Bluehawks 263 runs on the season.
“All of those girls have played a lot of softball together,” Ohnoutka said. “Bailey is a really great athlete. Tayelor leads us in RBI. Kiersten plays softball all year round against great competition and Olivia has been really reliable for us batting second.
“They all have done a really good job of providing leadership for us.”
It takes everyone, however, when you only have 10 players. Senior Mackenzie Demuth plays right field and is batting .386 with five home runs and 29 RBI. She also backs up sophomore pitcher Allison Stritt who is 20-7 on the season with a 3.97 ERA.
Three freshman Addison Demuth, Emma Landgren and Tatum Krikac round out the Bluehawk 10. Landgren plays third base and is batting .305.
Ohnoutka says the Hawks are ready for an open Class C field that he thinks any of the eight teams can win.
No. 1-seeded GACC is 25-2 with 15 shutouts, but three teams — the Bluehawks, Auburn and defending champion Fairbury — have shown power this year. All three have battled back and forth for the class home run lead with both Auburn and HSC over the previous Class C season record at 44 and 43, respectively, with the Jeffs at 40.
“It just feels like a wide open field to me,” the coach said. “We think any of the teams if they got hot, especially with their bats, could go on a run and win it. Bishop Neumann will be a great matchup for us and we know they won’t beat themselves and will play really good defense.”
Class C opening round games open the tournament at 9:00 AM this morning. Class A will follow at 11:30 and Class B at 2:00. Winners will play at 4:30 (A and C) and 7:00 (B).
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