SHAWNEE – JT Freeman is changing Friday night tradition in Morrison, where football has reigned as the supreme sport for decades.
Technically, it might have just been for a night, but the Morrison High softball squad was the big dog on the block Friday night. Before the Morrison football team hosted Barnsdall in a key district matchup, the softball team was playing in its first-ever state semifinal game.
The Lady Wildcats made just enough plays offensively, while earning key defensive stops in a pitchers’ duel against Fairland. Morrison won 1-0, keeping its historic run alive.
“Wonderful support again,” Freeman said. “I hate to keep repeating myself, but it’s been great for program, the school and the community. It’s been overwhelming. I told the kids to enjoy it and take in the whole experience.”
Morrison (32-4) will face No. 5 Tushka (31-8) at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Ballfields at Firelake for the Class A state championship. Tushka defeated Binger-Oney, 4-3, on Friday night.
The championship game will be on field No. 3. Morrison’s first two games were on field No. 2.
“We know Tushka has swung the heck out of the bats,” Freeman said. “We know we’ve got a challenge, but a challenge we’re certainly looking forward to.”
The No. 8-ranked Lady Wildcats beat No. 2 Roff in the first round before knocking off No. 6 Fairland. They did so by scoring one run in the fifth inning.
“The girls competed hard and it was a hard-fought game against an excellent ball club,” Freeman said. “Fairland was definitely one of the top four teams in the state. I tell the kids all the time that wins look different every day. Some days you outscore them and you swing it really well, and other days you’ve got to manufacture.
“It wasn’t too pretty offensively, but the key all year, and certainly this time of the year, is to have one more run than the opponent when the game ends. We were a bit lucky, but we also earned that tough, 1-0 win.”
It was the bottom third of the lineup that contributed to the run. Abby Womack, the No. 7 hitter, led off by earning a walk. Paris Warriner followed with a sacrifice bunt, helping Womack take second base before she advanced to third on a wild pitch.
Two batters later, leadoff batter Hally Vaughn delivered the clutch two-out hit. She hit an infield grounder between the third baseman and shortstop. The ball was bobbled and thrown to first, but not before Vaughn narrowly beat the throw. Womack scored on the play and gave Morrison the only run it needed.
“I just got mad and wanted to whack the ball,” Vaughn said. “I was really just hoping to hit it and hoped they fumbled it like they did. I just really wanted to hit it. I just ran to first.”
Trailing 1-0, Fairland came up to bat in the sixth with a purpose. The Lady Owls had only two hits through five innings, but they hit a two-out infield single and double to put two runners in scoring position.
Morrison chose to intentionally walk Erica Schertz, loading the bases for Grace Goins. Morrison ace Kaylyn Raper struck out Goins for the third out.
“I just hit my spots,” Raper said. “I’ve done what I’m always supposed to do. It worked, I guess. I am happy.”
Raper, who earned her second state win by throwing a complete game with eight strikeouts, said she was nervous during the sixth inning, but she kept calm.
“I just had to take deep breaths and keep going,” Raper said. “Lots of nerves, but deep breaths. It was really nerve-racking.”
Raper finished the game by inducing a pop fly and a pair of strikeouts. She was happy to earn the shutout – something that was lost in the seventh inning of the first round game. Her performance wasn’t lost on Freeman.
“I think I said this yesterday, but it’s what she’s done all year,” Freeman said. “It’s what she’s done all four years of her career. She battles, competes and gives us a chance to win every game.”
The Lady Wildcats’ coach is hoping for a great crowd Saturday for the championship. It will be the first state title game for a Morrison girls’ athletic team since the slow-pitch softball team earned its second state runner-up finish in 2009.
“We’re not done yet,” Raper said. “We still have one more game.”