Five innings into Friday’s games in the Class A, District 3 tournament, Grand Island Senior High’s season appeared heading towards an early ending.
Sixteen innings later, the Islanders were posing for team pictures with the district championship trophy.
No. 3-rated Grand Island overcame a five-run deficit to Lincoln East over the final two innings of the losers’ bracket final before sweeping No. 9 Omaha Westside — the only team to own two wins over the Islanders this season — 1-0 and 7-1 to earn the district title.
“Today we started without much enthusiasm,” G.I. coach K.C. Hehnke said. “We thought we’d come in and walk all over East, and East played well. I told our gals in the top of the fifth inning, ‘You better get something going or you’re done.’
“They put it together and strung a lot of hits together. You could just tell they built up the enthusiasm. It’s a testament to how well they came back, but they didn’t play well at all the first five innings today. They played great the final 16 innings.”
Grand Island’s momentum grew as the day went on, and that showed early in the winner-takes-all final meeting with Omaha Westside.
Libby Norvell and Lindsey Telecky singled in runs in the top of the first, a huge start against a team the Islanders had previously played in two one-run games and one extra-inning game.
Telecky added another RBI single in the third and courtesy runner Morgan Harvey went on to score on an error to make it 4-0.
The Islanders (36-4) added some impressive insurance runs in the fourth. Kayla Lindell led off with a solo home run to left center field, and Jessica Kleine added a two-run shot to left.
“We’ve played so tight games with these guys,” Hehnke said. “We got a couple runs on top of them. That made a huge difference. It made a world of difference in their demeanor, and when we hit the home run, you could see it was dying on them.”
Telecky — who delivered every Islander pitch in the three games — held the Warriors to one run (scored with two outs in the seventh) on three hits. She struck out eight and walked one to win two out of three duels with Westside ace Allie Ladd in the district tournament.
“Lindsey Telecky, to have her come out and pitch 21 innings today, I’d never have thought she’d see all 21 innings,” Hehnke said. “Our thought was to go with Jess (Kleine) the second game (against Westside).
“We threw so few innings that (first game against Westside) and she said she felt fine, and she looked fine. She was a little tired in the seventh, but she’s a competitor.”
Telecky said she was tired and sore after the day, but mentally she felt great.
“Honestly, I’m used to being in pressure situations, so it’s not too tough for me,” the junior said.
“I was getting more relaxed and just doing what I do. My screwball was working very well and just throwing a drop-ball outside was all I had to do.”
Grand Island forced the second game with Omaha Westside (13-13) with a 1-0 win. The Islanders scored their lone run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Kali Kohlhof led off with an infield single, and Kallie Rother followed with a bunt single.
After an out, Norvell came through with a single to left field scored Kohlhof.
“Libby’s been our clutch hitter of the year, but we’ve had other clutch hitters too,” Hehnke said. “That was a big hit, no doubt about it.
“We’d put pressure on them the entire game, even though it was a 1-0 game. That’s how softball is. We were trying to bunt people over, and it wasn’t always working. But you could tell it was wearing on them.”
Westside tried to answer in the seventh. Morgan Teuscher led off with a single and moved to second on Moriah Guyett’s bunt.
Marie Matthews reached on an error and later moved to second on defensive indifference.
Brittney Loney was called out on a bunt attempt for hitting the ball while out of the batter’s box, and Rother snagged an Emily Reece liner to third to end the game.
Telecky gave up two hits while striking out three and walking one.
Ladd allowed seven hits, striking out five and walking none.
“Westside is a great team,” Hehnke said. “You look at the teams they’ve lost to, and they only lose to the top-ranked teams. It’s too bad they’re going home because they’re one of the best teams in the state.”
Grand Island’s day appeared headed for an early ending after the Islanders fell behind Lincoln East 6-1 after five innings in the losers’ bracket final.
Spartan cleanup hitter Anne Alley did most of the damage, going 3-for-3 with two doubles, four RBIs and a run.
“We didn’t let ourselves get too down,” said Norvell, who went 5-for-8 over the three games. “We knew we’d beat them before, and we knew we could do it again.”
Telecky said the Islanders were motivated to battle back against the Spartans.
“We knew we didn’t want to stop playing,” she said. “We wanted to get to state, and we wanted to do great as a team because we know this is the best we can be.”
The Islanders rallied to score nine runs off nine hits over the final two innings. Kohlhof, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs, hit a bases-clearing two-out double to cut the lead to 6-5 in the sixth.
Liz Perez executed a suicide squeeze to plate courtesy runner Brianna McKay in the seventh to tie the game, and Mollie McNelis followed with a go-ahead RBI single with two outs.
Norvell finished the game 2-for-3 with three runs.
Telecky allowed four earned runs on six hits, striking out nine and walking two.
Battling through some adversity through the tournament made the district title even more enjoyable for Grand Island.
“I feel like we actually had to fight for it against the best teams,” Telecky said.
Norvell added: “We woke up this morning and our spirits were a little down. We came out here and we had nothing to lose. We just tried our best and it worked.”
Grand Island ............010 004 5—10 13 2
Lincoln East (13-18) ............202 020 0—6 6 1
WP—Telecky. LP—Mendoza. 2B-GI, Kohlhof. LE, Alley 2. 3B-GI, Norvell.
Omaha Westside ............000 000 0—0 2 2
Grand Island ............000 001 x—1 7 1
Grand Island (36-4) ............202 300 0—7 13 1
Omaha Westside (13-13) ............000 000 1—1 3 3
WP—Telecky. LP—Ladd. HR—GI, Lindell, Kleine.