TOPEKA — It’s the old cliche for Bremen softball at the Class 2A Westview Sectional — the Lady Lions are taking it one game at a time.
So far, so good.
No. 5-ranked Bremen jumped on top with a three-run top of the first, and after ace pitcher Chelsea Huppert loaded up the bags with three straight walks in her first three batters faced in the bottom of the inning, she and the Lions defense settled in to wriggle off the hook and keep Bremen on top. After that the challengers pretty much cruised, holding off a Cougars rally in the bottom of the seventh to unseat the defending Sectional 35 champs by a convincing 9-3 margin.
Bremen now advances to play Prairie Heights — a 12-1 winner over host Westview in the early game Monday night — in the early tournament semifinal tonight at 5 p.m. to be followed by a nightcap between LaVille and Fremont.
“We won the first one. That’s all we focused on was this game here,” said Bremen head softball coach Mike Huppert. “We came over here early to watch the first game just to see who we could play. There were no guarantees so we had to win this one. Now we’ll worry about the second game tomorrow.”
The Lions opened state tournament play fast with three runs off two hits, an error and a hit batter in the top of the first.
Sabrina Gilley led off the game with a single to shallow center and Megan Stouder bunted her over to third after she stole second. Brooke Baker was hit by a pitch down two strikes in the count to Central Noble starter Kayla Dull, and courtesy runner Maci Moren stole second. Chelsea Huppert drove in Gilley when a pop-up to short was mishandled, and Taylor Lashbrook drove in both Moren and Huppert courtesy runner Breann Wilson with a flare into shallow center to put Bremen up 3-0.
Huppert got off to a shaky start inside the circle in the bottom of the inning, surrounding three straight walks to McKynzi Grayless, Kennedy Forker and Darby Roe, but with the bags packed and none out, Katlyn Lee went down looking, Ashley Stevens popped out to Megan Stouder at short, and Baker made a nice catch of a foul pop-up behind the plate to end the threat with three runners on, the first of nine total baserunners left stranded by the Cougars in the loss.
“Offensively we got out front there early; we wanted to score first. We felt like we might have gotten a little pinched on the strike zone, but no big deal on that,” said Mike Huppert. “Then with three runners on, we came back and got out of it one, two, three, so that was sweet. That kind of helped us get the momentum back.”
Bremen stretched its lead out to 4-nil with another run in the top of the second. Shelby Zellmer led off with a double over the left fielder’s head, Brooke Fitch laid down a sacrifice bunt to move her over, and Zellmer got a good jump on Gilley’s fielder’s choice ball to second, scoring when Forker tried to throw her out at the plate.
The Lions tacked on three more off four hits in the third as Lashbrook and Mikayla Gardener tapped out consecutive one-out singles, Emily Molden drove in Lashbrook with her second double of the night to deep left, and Gardner scored and Molden took third on a wild pitch, setting the stage for Brooke Fitch’s RBI single on a hard grounder to short.
Molden, a mere freshman with the Lions, led her team at the plate from the seven spot with three doubles, an RBI and a run scored as part of a 13-hit night by Bremen.
“She’s been pressing, she’s been pressing, and tonight she finally got relaxed,” said Huppert of Molden. “She’s been hitting like that in the batting cage, but she put it together on the field tonight, did a great job.”
“A total team effort,” he added. “We were hustling down the bases, we stole four or five bases tonight and got ourselves in position, and we were aggressive at the plate.”
Central Noble cut into Bremen’s lead with two runs in the bottom of the fourth as Dull and Kristin Clear coaxed successive one-out walks from Huppert, and Dull courtesy runner McKenzie Hawk scored on a single from Grayless that was misplayed in left. Forker drove in Clear with an error on a pop up to short to cut the Cougar deficit to 7-2.
The Lions stretched their advantage out with two runs of their own in the sixth as Baker was hit by a pitch for the second time with two out, and Huppert wasted no time bringing her around with a double to deep left. Lashbrook scored courtesy runner Breann Wilson with a single into the gap at short for her third RBI of the night.
Stellar defense in the bottom of the inning kept Bremen’s lead to seven.
After Dull led off with a double to the center field fence, Rachael Czarnecki made a nice running save of a Clear looper to shallow left, and Hawk was throw out trying to reach third on a Kaylee Stocksdale grounder to short that wound up being a 6-3-5 double play as Stouder hit Lashbrook at first for the force out of Stocksdale and Lashbrook relayed the heads-up throw to Molden at third to catch Hawk sliding and end the inning.
“Rachael laid out on that one. It was tailing away from her a little bit; she made a great knee-high catch as she was going to the ground,” said Huppert. “Then the runner got aggressive going from second to third after we made the play at first, and we work on it all the time, throwing the ball back across the field and it was right on the money.”
Central Noble threatened again in the seventh after a big leadoff hit from Grayless, this time a solo homer to left, and Forker and Roe reached on consecutive infield errors with none out. But a pop out, a line out and a ground out later, and the duo were ultimately left stranded as the Lions earned a reprisal for last year’s sectional semifinal loss to the Cougars.
• BREMEN 9, CENTRAL NOBLE 3
At Class 2A Westview Sectional
Bremen: 313 002 0 — 9 13 5
Central Noble: 000 200 1 — 3 4 0
WP: Chelsea Huppert; LP: Kayla Dull
2B: Emily Molden 3 (B), Huppert (B), Shelby Zellmer (B), Dull (CN)
HR: McKynzi Grayless (CN)