HASTINGS — Unlike the other six Class A teams competing at the state softball tournament, the Lincoln Southwest and Lincoln East teams are driving back and forth from the Capital City each day.
They'll be gassing up two buses again Friday morning.
No. 2 Lincoln Southwest advanced to the Class A championship game behind an 8-0 win against top-ranked Gretna in five innings Thursday at Bill Smith Complex. Less than 50 minutes later, No. 3 East, behind a three-run blast from McReynolds in the sixth inning, rallied for a 5-4 win against No. 5 and defending state champion Papillion-La Vista in an elimination game.
Lincoln East (34-9) will play Gretna (29-6) at 11:30 a.m. Friday. The winner will play Southwest for a championship at 2 p.m.
Southwest played one of its more complete games of the season to reach the final for the second time in four seasons.
"We all come together (and) we were determined today to beat this team," said senior Madison Divis, who had four hits, finishing a triple short of hitting for a cycle.
Said Southwest coach Mark Watt, "I could just tell that they were ready."
The Silver Hawks (39-6) were unable to capitalize on some early offensive opportunities, but they weren't missing late against Gretna. Divis had a big game, finishing 4-for-4 with a double and a two-run homer that barely stayed fair, and ended the game in five innings.
"Just base hit, that's all I think about," Divis said.
Several Silver Hawk hitters have been stepping up lately, and that includes Divis.
Watt had his senior catcher batting sixth after she was going through a tough stretch, but she snapped out of it and has been batting in the three-hole.
Southwest also got a top-notch performance from senior pitcher Bailey Selvage, who struck out nine and limited a deep Gretna lineup to one hit. Of her 79 pitches, 50 were strikes.
She threw lights-out, Watt said.
"She's hitting her spots and throwing the pitches right where I call them," Watt added. "If we play them again we may have to make some adjustments, but if she's on her game like that, she's tough to beat."
Southwest will await the winner of Gretna-Lincoln East.
A 14-4 opening-round loss to Papillion-La Vista dropped the Spartans to the losers bracket. If they wanted to play here Friday, they needed to win three games Thursday.
Fueled by Jordan Bussey's 14-strikeout performance, East opened the day with an 8-2 win against Norfolk, and followed with a 9-7 victory against No. 7 Millard North. That set up a rematch with Papio, a team East had never beaten in the history of its program.
East trailed 4-1 after four innings and got a run back in the fifth.
Still seeking a spark with only four outs to work with, East got it from its district tournament hero. Senior Sydney McReynolds swatted a three-run homer to right field to give the Spartans a 5-4 lead.
It was McReynolds' second homer of the season. Her first was a walk-off homer last week against Fremont in districts.
"I was kind of thinking about my other one (at districts) that happened, too, and I'm just like, 'This would be a great time to have another home run,' and then it happened," McReynolds said.
Rounding the bases, McReynolds was thinking, "We're going to win this game. This is our game."
Lincoln East is playing on the final day of the state softball tournament for the first time since finishing state runner-up in 2006.
For East to win a state title, it will need to win three games in one day again, but the Spartans on Thursday showed it can be done.
"I can't tell you proud I am," East coach Lance Kingery said. "There are no words in the dictionary to tell you how proud I am of these kids so far.
"I just think they totally believed they could play with anybody."
Game of the day
East-Papillion-La Vista: Give East a lot of credit. A 14-4 loss to Papio on Wednesday could have taken the wind out of its sails, especially after East was trailing 4-1 in the rematch. But pitchers Abby Pinkelman, Jordan Bussey and Campbell Petrick combined to keep the Spartans in the game long enough for McReynolds' biggest hit of her prep career.
Some impressive individual homer performances continued Thursday. East senior Morgan Adams hit her 22nd of the season — it came against Millard North. Millard North junior Katherine Johnson hit two on Thursday to raise her season total to 20. Four came in the state tournament.
Lincoln East and Gretna did not meet during the regular season. Both teams are not afraid to use multiple pitchers in games, and they're all very effective.
Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.