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HASTINGS — Sometimes it's hard to find the words to describe how a player performs on the big stage.

At times, there are no words at all.

Papillion-La Vista's Jordyn Bahl and Wayne's Tori Kniesche had those kind of performances at last weeks's state softball tournament at Bill Smith Complex, leaving coaches speechless and spectators in awe.

Bahl, the hard-throwing junior and Oklahoma recruit, opened the tournament with three no-hitters. Elkhorn got a few hits against her in the final, but Bahl still had electric stuff on the final day in helping the Monarchs cap a perfect season with a Class A state championship.

Kniesche, meanwhile, played the leading role in guiding Class B Wayne to a second straight state championship, and fourth overall. She was her dominant self in the circle, but how about that final day?

In three games -- one against Seward and two against Beatrice -- Kniesche was 6-for-7 at the plate with 10 RBIs and five home runs, including the go-ahead three-run shot in the seventh inning in the decisive game against Beatrice.

Asked if he had ever witnessed an individual performance like that, Wayne coach Rob Sweetland said no. And Sweetland has seen some great performances, including several from pitcher Molly Hill.

"Words can't describe how awesome a day she had," Sweetland said of Kniesche, a senior and South Dakota State recruit.

By the end of Friday, the state's top two pitchers had led their respective teams to state championships. Their vast skillsets played a big part in that, but Bahl and Kniesche also were extremely motivated and focused.

Bahl and her Papio teammates were determined to make sure they didn't come up short again after losing to Lincoln Southwest in the 2018 state final.

"This was just a statement for us," Bahl said. "All season, all tournament, and now it feels good that it's done."

Kniesche simply wanted to end her high school career with another state trophy.

"It means the world," said Kniesche, who struck out 87 batters and gave up only four earned runs in six state tournament games this past week. "This is the way I wanted to end my season. My high school career, I wanted to end it here and I wasn't going to give up."

Both standout pitchers had help around them. 

Wayne's young roster came up with the timely hits, and spotted Kniesche an early lead in a multiple games at state.

Bahl sets the tone for Papio, but the Monarchs don't have a weak spot in the battling lineup, they create a lot pressure on the basepaths, and the defense is there, too.

"We're really confident in our defense behind Jordy as well as our offense, which is just amazing," Monarchs coach Todd Petersen said. "They say rely on your teammate, and it's pretty easy to do that when you have a team like this."

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More on Papio's historic run: Papillion-La Vista became the first Class A team to finish a season unbeaten, going 36-0.

More impressive, the Monarchs never trailed in a game this season. They won 29 of their 36 games by six runs or more, and only two teams played within three runs of Papio.

Both those games came in the Metro Tournament. Bellevue East was tied with Papio at 2-2 entering the fifth inning before losing 5-2. Omaha Marian and Papio were scoreless going into the fifth before the Monarchs plated runs in the fifth and sixth to win 2-0.

Bahl, meanwhile, finished the season with a 0.15 earned-run average, the fifth-best ERA in state history, and the best ERA since the pitcher's circle was moved from 40 feet to 43 in 2010.

Bahl faced 472 batters this season. Only 27 recorded a hit. Like Petersen said, amazing.

Elkhorn, Wayne move up, find success: Papillion-La Vista wasn't the only school to make history in Hastings.

Wayne became the first school to win state titles in two different classes. The Blue Devils also did it in back-to-back fashion, after winning Class C in 2018.

Elkhorn became the first school to record a Class B state championship and a Class A state runner-up finish. Elkhorn won Class B in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 20014 and 2018.

Fairbury also made history, winning its first state softball title.

The long run: There's a unique bond in softball that you don't see in a lot of other high school sports.

A lot of the coach-player relationships are deeply rooted and go beyond the four-year high school experience.

Beatrice's Gary Lytle has coached the Lady Orange's six seniors since they were 10 years old. The group's competitiveness stood out to him immediately, Lytle said before the state tournament.

Crete's Shawn Carr has been coaching his group of seniors since they were playing for his 8-and-under team. Fairbury coach Taylor Biehl recalls dropping her own kids off at daycare and seeing the current Jeff seniors there. She also has been coaching her group of juniors since they were 5.

"To bring those two groups together, it was pretty big," Biehl said.

Carr said he viewed his players as his own kids.

"I haven't had a daughter old enough to graduate, but graduation is just a bittersweet day where you have to watch your kids go out into the world, and that's kind of what I feel today (Thursday)," Carr said. "Extremely proud of all the things they've accomplished, but then inside a little sad because I don't get to watch it anymore."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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