HASTINGS — From the outside looking in, Tori Kniesche looked as cool as ever.
The hard-throwing Wayne junior was in the process of carving through the Bishop Neumann lineup in a tight Class C state championship battle Saturday at Smith Softball Complex.
But from the inside?
“That was so nerve-wracking!” Kniesche said. “I was having a heart attack that whole game. I could barely breathe.”
You would have never had known that by watching. Kniesche fanned 20 batters, and the top-ranked Blue Devils got some key runs late to cap a perfect season with a 3-2 win against Neumann and a state championship trophy.
Kniesche limited the defending state champion to three hits. Of the 21 outs recorded by Wayne, 20 were via a Kniesche strikeout.
“That’s just incredible. I did not know that,” Kniesche said.
Quite simply, “She wanted it,” Wayne coach Rob Sweetland said of the South Dakota State recruit. “It seemed like the zone helped both pitchers a lot. She’s pitched so much that she used it. There’s a lot of pressure on those kids, and to see what she did today, that’s pretty special.”
Kniesche struck out a whopping 67 batters in four state games — 20 against Neumann on Saturday, 17 against Arlington on Friday, 12 against Neumann on Thursday and 18 against Cozad on Wednesday.
Wayne (35-0), so used to racing past opponents during the regular season, had to grind out multiple wins at the state tournament, including two one-run wins over the Cavaliers (27-10). That included a 2-1 walk-off win on Thursday.
On Saturday, Wayne broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning on Sidney Biggerstaff’s RBI triple. The Blue Devils added two more runs in the top of the seventh. Biggerstaff opened with a double and came home on Abigail Ankeny’s single. Wayne plated another run on an infield error.
The insurance runs proved to be huge. Neumann got back in the game on Taylor Stuhr’s two-run homer with no outs in the bottom half. But Kniesche struck out the next three batters to ignite the celebration of the program’s third state title and second perfect season.
Both Kniesche and Neumann pitcher Hadley Chvatal took advantage of a bigger strike zone. Chvatal struck out seven and scattered four hits.
“It’s just tough no matter what approach you take,” Neumann coach Dave Brabec said. “We couldn’t get an approach going because we didn’t know what was going to happen pitch-to-pitch, and when you got an all-stater on the mound who’s already great, it partially feels like something was stolen from us a little bit.
“But at the same time, we make a couple plays in the sixth inning and we win that game on a walk-off, so it’s in our hands, too.”
Neumann was making its second straight appearance in the state championship and third in four years.
“Roughly 10 years ago when I came in here we had no pitching, nothing,” Brabec said. “All the hard work and dedication we put into it just to get your program going the direction it should with your summer teams and all that, it’s rewarding for sure for us and the kids just to be back here and give back to this game. I’m really proud of our kids.”