HASTINGS — Papillion-La Vista knows the position well. Extremely well.
The Monarchs have advanced to the Class A winners’ bracket final — the third-round game — seven straight years, only to lose in this round each of the past six seasons.
A freshman made sure it wasn’t seven. Mia Jarecki led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a solo home run to lift the No. 1 Monarchs to a 3-2 victory against No. 2 Lincoln Pius X on Thursday at Bill Smith Softball Complex.
Instead of needing to win three games Friday, Papio (35-2) can clinch its first state title since 2010 with one more victory. The Monarchs will play the winner of Pius X-Lincoln Southwest at 2 p.m. Friday.
“It feels good, but I also told them they haven’t done anything yet,” Papillion-La Vista coach Todd Petersen said. “We got to get it done tomorrow.”
The Monarchs and Thunderbolts scrapped and grinded Thursday. The game even featured a trick play from Papio that resulted in a double play in the third inning.
The Thunderbolts (28-3) got a strong pitching performance from senior Amelia Jarecke, who limited Papio to three hits. The Bolts tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth inning on Abbie Vodicka’s RBI bloop single off Papio pitcher Courtney Wallace, a Nebraska recruit.
The Monarchs changed pitchers, turning to freshman Jordyn Bahl, another NU recruit, who limited Pius X to one hit over two-plus innings. Then Jarecki hit her first prep home run to win it.
“We're going to fight our way through and this is what was meant to be today,” Pius X coach Christy Kruger said. “Tomorrow’s a brand new day.”
On Friday, Pius X will meet Southwest (37-5) for a chance to play Papio in the final. Pius X defeated the Silver Hawks 6-3 on Wednesday.
For the first time since 2009, Lincoln had two advance to the final day.
“We’re glad to be playing tomorrow,” Southwest coach Mark Watt said. “We didn’t play our best (Wednesday) night, so we’re happy to have chance to continue to play.”
No. 4 Southwest advanced to the final day for the first time since 2011 with wins against No. 5 Millard North (9-5) and No. 3 Millard South (9-8) on Thursday.
Southwest’s Carson Fischer hit two home runs against Millard South, including a two-run shot in the bottom of the sixth to give the Silver Hawks a 9-8 lead. The Nebraska recruit finished with six RBIs.
Just two weeks earlier, Southwest had one hit (a blooper) against Millard South in a 2-0 loss.
“We knew that was not us, so we were very confident that we could come out and hit the ball,” Watt said. “Wasn’t looking too good for a while (Thursday) but we made some adjustments.”
Lincoln North Star's season came to a close with a 13-0 loss to Millard South. Earlier in the day, the No. 8 Navigators (26-14) advanced with a 9-6 win against No. 5 Millard West, eliminating the Wildcats.
After the loss to the Patriots, the North Star coaches and players talked about what the seniors brought to the team, and what looks like a bright future. The Navigators have a combined 14 freshmen and sophomores who picked up three games of state experience.
"I think that was the biggest thing was giving those young girls a taste of this experience and know what it feels like to be here," North Star coach Brittany Hansen said. "Obviously all the hard work that we've put into getting here but know it's very achievable for us next year and wanting this same feeling again. This is a big deal and I think that they got that."
As for Papio's trick play against Pius X in the third inning, Petersen calls the play "trick one."
After delivering a pitch, Wallace received the ball back from the catcher, but acted as if the ball was overthrown. Both the shortstop and second baseman dove toward second trying to stop the errant throw. The center fielder also sold the play, but Wallace had the ball the entire time, as Pius X's baserunners took off for third and second. Both were tagged out on the play.
"I usually run it with a runner on second," Petersen said. "I never run it with (runners on) first and second."