HASTINGS — The bus ride back to Lincoln on Wednesday had a quiet tone to it.
Lincoln Southwest had just lost a first-round game on a walk-off to Millard West, and the players were down, Mark Watt said.
But at the end of the ride, the Southwest softball coach had one more message for his players.
"We have the team to come back and get to the final game," Watt recalled. "They had in their minds already that that was something we could accomplish."
The No. 2 Silver Hawks have responded, winning four straight in the Class A state softball tournament at Smith Softball Complex. On Friday, they defeated No. 4 Millard West 6-2 before holding off No. 3 Millard South 8-7.
And now, for the second straight year, Southwest will meet No. 1 Papillion-La Vista in Saturday's 10 a.m. championship final. Southwest must defeat the Monarchs twice in order to hoist the top prize.
"What's it going to take? It's going to take a great game," Watt said. "You can't play a mediocre game, and we got to come out and play our hardest tomorrow."
Southwest (37-5) got back to the final in a variety of ways. They broke out the bats in a 15-3 win against Lincoln North Star and got a big relief outing from junior Brin Swanson against Gretna. First-inning home runs from McKenzie Steiner and Abbie Squier set the tone in the rematch with Millard West.
Against Millard South, it was the bottom of the lineup stepping up. Tianna Francisco, the No. 7 hitter, hit a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the fifth to tie the game at 6-6. Terrah Doremus followed with a single before Josi Solano, the No. 9 hitter, blasted a two-run shot for an 8-6 lead.
Steiner, who started the game, re-entered in the circle in the top of the seventh and got the final two outs, stranding runners at the corners.
"Stein's been our horse this year," Watt said. "She's been a stud for us and I wanted my senior to have a chance to finish it out. (She) has been so mentally tough this year, I knew she could come in and handle that situation and do her best."
Southwest and Papillion-La Vista will be meeting for the third time this year. Papio won the previous two meetings, 10-2 and 3-1.
"This is a great group of girls and I love playing with them and we love playing with each other," Steiner said. "Basically, we play every play like it's our last. It's a do-or-die situation for us."
At 34-0, there has been no slowing down Papillion-La Vista this season. Heck, even Mother Nature is having trouble dampening the Monarchs’ momentum.
Papio jumped to an immediate four-run lead against Millard South in a Class A state softball winners’ bracket game Friday before a steady rain brought play to a halt. When the game resumed nearly five hours later, the Monarchs plated five more runs before the Patriots got a chance to bat. The result was an 11-0, four-inning victory for Papio.
“It was nice to be up 4-0,” Papillio-La Vista coach Todd Petersen said. “We just talked to them about when we got back together (during the delay), ‘OK, the score’s 0-0. Make sure you’re focused on that’ — that kind of intensity, that kind of focus, because they’re (Millard South) good.”
Monarch catcher Brooke Dumont has swung a hot bat all season, hitting .622 entering state, and it has carried over into Hastings. The sophomore connected for two homers, a double and six RBIs against Millard South.
Because of two weather disruptions this week, Papillion-La Vista — and Elkhorn in Class B and Wayne in Class C — has only played one game per day.
Softball players are used to playing multiple games per day, but Papio is embracing the unique situation.
“I kind of like it — one game a day — because it’s focused on one game before we get to the next one,” Dumont said. “Focus on the next day and just keep on going.”
Because of the lengthy rain delay, the championship games were moved to Saturday, extending the tournament by a day.