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Class A state softball: Behind the long ball, North Platte intends on staying longer in Hastings

Class A state softball: Behind the long ball, North Platte intends on staying longer in Hastings


HASTINGS — Most years, the Friday Class A winners’ bracket final features two Metro teams, or teams from the Metro and Capital City.

But after the first day, the state tournament has an outside-the-box feel to it thanks to a confident North Platte squad that made the two-hour trek from the west.

Behind five solo home runs and top-notch pitching from sophomore Tatum Montelongo, the Bulldogs upset No. 4 Lincoln Southwest 7-3 Wednesday to advance in the state tournament at Bill Smith Softball Complex.

“If we’re at state, that’s a good thing,” North Platte coach Jeff Barner said. “Everybody you play here is a quality opponent, so it really doesn’t matter. You just got to come out, play your game and hope it’s your day.”

Indeed, it was North Platte’s day.

The Bulldogs (31-9) scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to get past No. 8 Lincoln Southeast 4-1 to open the tournament, and then met a Lincoln Southwest team with a powerful lineup.

But North Platte has power, too — 65 home runs entering state. Aspen Nelson (twice), Tahjzha Botts, Shelby Yoshida and Abby Orr each homered as the Bulldogs built a 7-2 lead Wednesday evening.

Montelongo, meanwhile, kept the Southwest (33-8) bats in check. She struck out eight and scattered six hits.

“She was working ahead, she was mixing her pitches,” Southwest coach Mark Watt said. “We know that her rise ball is really good and we swung at a few of them, but it wasn’t only her rise ball; she was in command today.”

It was North Platte’s first win in the Class A state tournament since 1999. The Bulldogs have gone back and forth between classes A and B.

Now comes the ultimate challenge. The Bulldogs will get a shot at No. 1 Papillion-La Vista, which beat its two foes Wednesday by a combined score of 24-0 to extend a state-record win streak to 70 games.

Barner expects his group to embrace the challenge.

“I mean, what can you ask for? They’re the No. 1 team in the nation,” he said. “If you’re going to be a softball player, let’s go and play, see how it goes. Just enjoy the moment, enjoy being here.”

Papillion-La Vista (34-0) opened its title defense with a 10-0 win against Papillion-La Vista South before racing past No. 2 Omaha Marian 14-0.

Southwest opened with a 12-11 win against No. 7 Bellevue East, rallying not once but twice. The Silver Hawks trailed 5-0 and 7-1, took an 8-7 lead in the sixth and then scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh.

Senior Skylar Pieper, who drove in five, closed the thriller with a base hit to right field. She fell behind 0-2 in the count and eventually laced an RBI single. The ball got by the right fielder, plating two more runs on the play.

No. 3 Lincoln East (33-10) and Lincoln Southeast (30-13) lost their first games to drop to the elimination round.

Sophomore Maddia Goff pitched a one-hit gem in helping Omaha Marian get past East 3-0.

Spartan coach Lance Kingery has watched his team battle back during some tough games this year, including rallying from a 13-6 deficit in the seventh inning in the district final against Millard South, and expects the team to be ready for Papio South (22-16) at 9 a.m. Thursday.

"We'll still be line dancing before the game starts and they'll be singing Christmas songs," Kingery said. "It's just a matter of them finding their rhythm and getting everything back in the balance again."

Lincoln East and Lincoln Southeast players — outside of two players on the Knights' roster — were playing in their first state tournament games Wednesday.

Now those teams have a taste of the atmosphere heading into elimination games.

"I think on a positive side of that, it's going to help," Southeast coach Toni Closner said. "Now that they have those first-game jitters (out) and they see what it's like to play in that high-pressure situation, I think we should hopefully be able to bounce back tomorrow and respond.

"These girls have done a really good job of fighting all year long, so I know they're not going to give up."

The Knights led 1-0 against North Platte, but the Bulldogs loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth inning, and scored two runs on an infield error. All four Bulldog runs were unearned.

Southeast will play Bellevue East (21-14) on Thursday morning.

Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.


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