HASTINGS -- Lincoln Pius X and Lincoln Southwest did not cross paths during the regular season.
So for the No. 2 Thunderbolts, who rolled into the state tournament on a 20-game winning streak, Wednesday’s second-round game against the No. 4 Silver Hawks was another chance to show they can hang with the top teams in Class A. Pius X was in Class B last year.
Fueled by back-to-back home runs from Josie Baxter and Elise Wilhelm, the Thunderbolts jumped to an early lead and held on for a 6-3 win against Southwest at Bill Smith Softball Complex.
The Thunderbolts’ win streak is now 22, and now comes the biggest test of the year against another opponent Pius X has yet to play this year. The Bolts (28-2) and No. 1 Papillion-La Vista (34-2) will play in a 4:30 p.m. winners’ bracket game Thursday.
“I think it builds confidence,” Pius X coach Christy Kruger said of beating an unfamiliar foe and preparing for another. “I think it proves what we’ve been working toward and pushing these girls toward all year long is we can hang with any team. We can compete with any team. It’s just that confidence, that focus and staying humble and hungry all year long.”
Papillion-La Vista, led by pitchers Courtney Wallace and Jordyn Bahl, rolled to two wins Wednesday -- 10-0 over Grand Island and 8-1 over Millard South.
The Monarchs’ win sets up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup.
“They’re solid,” Papio coach Todd Petersen said of Pius X. “There’s a reason their record is what it is. They’ve played some quality teams, they’re fast. They look like they good, solid, fundamental defense.”
Pius X shook off some early nerves against No. 8 Lincoln North Star (25-13). The Navigators jumped to a 5-2 lead, but Pius X scored four runs in the fourth inning, and five in the fifth to take control in a 12-6 victory.
“I don’t know if it was the venue, the whole thing about state, but we kind of came out nervous playing against North Star,” Kruger said. “We told them to relax, have fun and play their game, because that’s what they’re good at.”
The Thunderbolts took that message to heart against Lincoln Southwest (35-5). Baxter and Wilhelm hit back-to-back homers in the second inning, and Carlee Liesch added a two-run single in the frame to give Pius X an early 4-0 lead.
Senior Kelsey Goodban, who picked up two wins, pitched a complete game against Southwest. She scattered eight hits.
“We got lots of runners on, we just couldn’t come up with the big hit today, so that really made the difference,” Southwest coach Mark Watt said. “They had a couple big hits when they needed them.”
Southwest was aiming for its second come-from-behind win of the day.
The Silver Hawks scored six runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to rally for a 13-10 win against No. 5 Millard West in the opening round.
The final three runs came off the bat of senior Amber Storer, who launched a shot over the left-field fence on the first pitch she saw for a walk-off homer.
“I had a lot of adrenaline going, I was really excited,” said Storer, who had four hits. “Going into that at-bat I knew everyone had my back. We were already tied, so I knew I really had nothing to lose at the plate.”
Southwest will play either Millard North or Grand Island at 2 p.m. Thursday. The Islanders and Mustangs will play at 9 a.m.
North Star will play Millard West at 9 a.m. in an elimination game.
North Star coach Brittany Hansen she expects her team to battle to the end.
"They came and fought that game, and I just want them to keep fighting," she said. "We've had such a great season. I don't want that 9 o'clock game to be their last game."