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Class C state softball: After 1st-round loss, GACC never lost sight of goal en route to crown
CLASS C STATE SOFTBALL

Class C state softball: After 1st-round loss, GACC never lost sight of goal en route to crown

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State softball, 10.16

Guardian Angels Central Catholic players celebrate their state title win over Kearney Catholic on Friday at the Class C state softball tournament in Hastings.

HASTINGS — Guardian Angels Central Catholic had plans for a three-day stay here after finishing state runner-up in 2019.

But before lunch was even served Wednesday, the opening day of the state softball tournament, the Bluejays suffered defeat and were shown to the losers bracket.

Not ideal.

Being on the wrong end of the tournament’s biggest upset was only a small glitch. No. 1 GACC won the next six games, including a tournament-ending 12-0, three-inning win against No. 8 Kearney Catholic on Friday to capture the Class C state championship at Bill Smith Softball Complex.

“We were nervous coming back Thursday morning, because they were afraid they’d do something stupid or get beat,” GACC coach Allen Kreikemeier said. “Once we won that first game (Thursday vs. Auburn), eyes to the prize, and the kids just took off.

“We finished probably as strong as we could finish.”

GACC (29-3) worked its way back to Friday’s final and topped Kearney Catholic 7-3 to force a second game. It was all GACC after that.

The Bluejays jumped to a 5-0 lead after two innings and used a barrage of homers in the third inning to put the game away. Kayla Fischer, Leah Jansen, Aubrey Kreikemeier and Avery Kreikemeier peppered the grass beyond the fence with home run balls.

That was plenty of run support for Erin Franzluebber, who would be the runaway winner for the workhorse award if one was handed out in Hastings. The senior pitcher held the Kearney Catholic bats in check with a bevy of change-ups. The Stars scored a combined 30 runs in their first three state games.

Franzluebber pitched every inning in the tournament. She threw a whopping 659 pitches over seven games. Never mind the fact that she had a big blood blister on her foot this week.

“She could hardly walk this morning,” coach Kreikemeier said. “Taped it up and she said, ‘I’m doing this.’ I just can’t say how tough that was for her to tough that out.”

So, Erin, was the blister an issue?

“Um, no,” she said nonchalantly. “Kind of just pitched through the pain.”

Franzluebber never backed down, nor did the Bluejays, who won their second state title. They faced an uphill battle after losing to No. 10 Central City in the first round.

But they showed why they were the No. 1 team most of the season, defeating No. 5 Auburn (6-3), No. 4 Malcolm (5-1), No. 3 Fairbury (9-1) and No. 2 Bishop Neumann (9-1) in a span of 27 hours before putting away Kearney Catholic.

“We kind of embraced that,” coach Kreikemeier said of the road to a title. “Once we lost that first game, (we) said we’re going to show that we’re better than all of them.”

Franzluebber said she knew the team could play better after the loss to Central City.

“I knew that if we kept working hard, we had the bats, we had pitching, we had fielding, we had everything in line that we could make it,” she said.

Kearney Catholic (30-7), in its third year as a program, was playing in its second state tournament and first state final.

Stars head coach Jon Ruyle said he is a competitive soul, so he doesn’t like to lose, but, “I was proud enough before the day got here. Win or lose, you couldn’t be more proud than what I am. I’m just happy for the girls to be able to experience this and go out and have the decision that they did. It’s a learning experience and I hope we really grow from this.”

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

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