By Todd Fertig
Rossville rode the arm of Brinley Dyche to three wins in Manhattan Thursday and Friday, with the Bulldawgs claiming their first state softball championship since 2000 with a 2-0 win over Santa Fe Trail in the championship game.
The Bulldawgs avenged a disappointing final day of the 2022 season. A year ago, Rossville lost one-run games in extra innings in both the semifinal and consolation rounds of the 3A tournament.
“It’s been 23 years since we’ve won one for the town, and it was much needed to get one back for them,” said third-year head coach John Nitsch. “Our goal was to get back here and finish it. I knew we were good enough to win it. We just needed to come finish it.”
“Last year we just didn’t perform the way we knew we could have,” said shortstop Kinsey Perine, who snared a line drive for the final out of the championship. “It just means everything that we came out this year and turned it on.
“Those are my best friends. I wouldn’t want to do this with anybody else. I am just so happy for each and every one of them.”
The senior Dyche pitched the Bulldawgs to a come-from-behind 6-4 win over second-seeded Southeast of Saline in the semifinal game Friday and despite bright sun and steamy temperatures, Dyche returned to the mound for the championship game an hour later and shut out fifth-seeded Santa Fe Trail to claim the 3A title.
Dyche was also credited with the 19-7 victory over third-seeded Columbus on Thursday, a win that was preserved by relief pitcher Kalei Hale.
“Brinley is just incredible,” Nitsch said. “She’ll just go toe-to-toe with anybody around. I’m going to miss having her out there next year. She’s a bulldog for sure.”
Dyche came to the rescue in the first inning of the semifinal game against Southeast of Saline Friday when Rossville’s starter Katie Spielman couldn’t get untracked. Dyche entered the game with the bases loaded and the Bulldawgs already trailing 3-0. She worked a strikeout to limit the damage. The senior then permitted just one run over the next six innings, giving the Rossville bats a chance to wake up.
The 3-0 deficit held until the fifth, when the Bulldawgs exploited a Trojan throwing error to scratch out three runs.
Three hits in the sixth inning, including a double by Ryan Leathers, gave Rossville a two-run lead. Dyche made that lead stand, propelling the Bulldawgs to the championship game.
“My plan was to go with Katie in the first game. But she said she just wasn’t feeling it, so we went with Brin,” Nitsch said. “I told Brin, ‘I’ll go with you as long as you can go and bring in Hale if I need to.' ”
“I just went out and pitched like I knew I could pitch,” Dyche said. “Katie was struggling, so I picked her up. She would have been there for me if I had struggled.”
The starter in the championship, Dyche survived a pitcher’s duel with Santa Fe Trail’s Kaelee Washington. The Chargers’ junior struck out 13 Bulldawgs and gave up just four base hits.
Rossville scratched out two runs against Washington in the top of the third inning. Perine singled in a run and scored on a sacrifice bunt.
“It felt really good when we got those two runs,” Nitsch said. “I figured if we put two up, if we kept pitching and playing defense the way we do, it might be enough. When we played (Santa Fe Trail) earlier in the year, they had problems squaring the ball up on our pitchers. So, I felt good when we got two up on (Washington) because she’s a tough one to score on.”
In the title game, Dyche struck out 10, surrendered just two hits and did not walk a batter in the title game. Over the two days, Dyche pitched 16.1 innings.
“My arm is tired, but I can’t really feel how tired it is. The adrenaline is going, so it doesn’t even hurt actually,” Dyche said. “I was confident the whole time. I never thought about coming out.
“It was a great way to go out in my last game. I couldn’t imagine anything better.”
Rossville wasn’t fazed by being the sixth seed.
“Last year at the state tournament, every single first round game was an upset. The lower seeds won,” Perine said. “We know that at the state tournament seeds don’t matter. You’ve just got to go play your game.”
“We always like it when we’re the underdog. We don’t care,” said Nitsch. “These girls just don’t ever give up. We always talk about there’s ups and downs, but we’ve just got to keep playing our game.”
ROSSVILLE 2, SANTA FE TRAIL 0
Rossville (20-4) 002 000 0 — 2 4 0
Santa Fe Trail (21-4) 000 000 0 — 0 2 1
Dyche and Horton. Washington and Ganger. W — Dyche. L — Washington. 2B — Santa Fe Trail: Sleichter.
ROSSVILLE 6, SOUTHEAST OF SALINE 4
Rossville (19-4) 000 032 1 — 6 10 0
Southeast of Saline (22-3) 300 001 0 — 4 9 2
Spielman, Dyche (1) and Horton. Jacobson, Commerford (6) and Harris. W — Dyche. L — Jacobson. 2B — Rossville: Mitchell, Leathers.