By Todd Fertig
The Rossville softball team needed a special relief appearance to advance to the Clas 3A state tournament semifinals for the second consecutive year, defeating Columbus 19-7 at Manhattan Thursday night.
The sixth-seeded Bulldawgs jumped out to a 15-2 lead over the third-seeded Titans. But Rossville ran into tough sledding in the fourth inning, surrendering a five-run rally to Columbus. After the Titans roughed up the Bulldawgs’ starter and a reliever, Rossville coach John Nitsch turned to junior Kalei Hale to put out the fire.
Hale stepped into the fray having pitched just once before in a varsity game. She put down the three batters she faced in the fourth inning, permitting just one run on a wild pitch. She returned for the fifth with a slightly bigger cushion and retired the Titans, ending the contest in five innings.
“I never would have thought my first two pitchers would have come out and been that nervous and struggle a little bit,” Nitsch said. “But it’s nice when you’ve got another junior who is ready to go at any time. She was ready and threw a heck of a game tonight.”
With pitching a Rossville strength, Hale was an unknown commodity to everyone but Nitsch and the Bulldawgs.
“She carries herself well on the mound. I know she does,” Nitsch said. “She’s always been our number three, but she could pitch for a lot of other teams. We’re deep with pitching. I knew she had it in her and I told her, ‘When you get your time, it’s going to be in a big moment.’ ”
“It can be hard waiting (for your opportunity), but staying patient is the best thing you can do in that situation,” Hale said. “I try to be ready to go anywhere the coach tells me to be and be mentally ready for anything.”
Hale entered the game briefly in left field but spent most of the first three and a half innings on the bench. She had little room for error when she was summoned with the bases loaded.
“I was thinking mostly to just stay within myself,” Hale said. “Sometimes when you’re in a big-game situation like that, it’s easy to have your brain scattered. Staying within myself was really a big part of it. That and trusting my team.”
The Bulldawgs busted out for seven runs in the third inning, six in the fourth, and four in the fifth. It was the kind of offensive outburst Nitsch has been waiting for.
“We knew if we came out and hit the ball, we’d be tough to beat. That’s where we’ve been struggling this year,” Nitsch said. “I challenged the girls to come out and start stroking the ball like we’re capable of. And that’s what we did tonight.”
Kinsey Perine and Shyanne Haehn led the Rossville hit parade. Perine rapped two doubles and a triple while Haehn added three doubles. In all, the Bulldawgs racked up 14 hits. They were aided by a Columbus error in each of the five innings.
Last year, the Bulldawgs reached the second day of the 3A tournament, only to lose both games in extra innings. Much of that team is back.
“They’re hungry,” Nitsch said. “I told them just to go home and come back relaxed and ready to have fun. That’s all we can do.”
ROSSVILLE 19, COLUMBUS 7
Rossville (18-4) 117 64 — 19 14 0
Columbus (21-3) 101 50 — 7 9 5
Dyche, Spielman (4), Hale (4) and Horton. Aubree Saporito, Major (3) and Addison Saporito. W — Dyche. L — Saporito. 2B — Rossville: Haehn 3, Perine 2, Porter. Columbus: Lopp. Triple — Rossville: Perine. Columbus: Simpson. HR — Columbus: Simpson.