As if Wayne super-state pitcher Tori Kniesche needed any help in the circle, the No. 5 Hastings Tigers gave her and the fourth-seeded Blue Devils a four-run cushion to work with in the first two innings of their Class B state tournament opener at Smith Softball Complex.
That, plus Kniesche’s powerful right arm, provided Wayne its 31st win of the season.
“We feel good if we can get four to five runs,” Wayne head coach Rob Sweetland said. “(Kniesche) is really hard to make square contact on. I think she walked probably as many as she has all season combined.”
Hastings worked counts against Kniesche, earning six walks. But those were far-outweighed by the South Dakota State commit’s 19 strikeouts.
The Tigers were behind the fastball and when Kniesche did resort to off-speed, Hastings couldn’t put barrel to bat then either.
“I’m not sure we made any (adjustments) early,” Hastings head coach Ashley Speak said. “We told them they had to make an adjustment. Some of them did, some of them didn’t.
“(Kniesche) is good. You tip your cap to a pitcher like that. She held us, a pretty powerful offense, to no runs.”
Hastings managed just three balls in play off of Kniesche. Elle Douglas broke up the no-hit bid in the sixth inning with a single to right field on a simple and easy swing. Other than that, Hastings flew out to left field and popped up to third, which ended the game.
Last year Kniesche and Wayne won the Class C state championship. The Blue Devils’ ace recorded all but one out via strikeout in that contest.
Sweetland said while his ace striking out so many batters per contest is obviously a luxury, the Blue Devils have often lacked focus on defense.
“That’s why we’ve constantly got to communicate with each other,” he said. “They can fall asleep out there and they have at times. But I think (at state) they’re going to be locked in. It’s not like (Kniesche) is unhittable. We’ve got to make the plays we should make and keep singles singles and just those basic defensive philosophies.”
The Tigers were dead from a disastrous start.
Wayne was gifted three runs in the first on three Hastings errors.
Kendall Dorey singled to center then took second on a passed ball. Back-to-back errors by Hastings’ Kaelan Schultz at third base put the Blue Devils on the board.
Later, a two-out single by Wayne’s Aliah Schulz scored a pair for the 3-0 advantage.
In the second frame, a two-out intentional walk issued to Dorey — who led off for Wayne most of the year, and hit .486 — turned into a run on back-to-back singles. Hope O’Reilly was credited with the RBI.
That mountain proved to be Everest for Hastings.
“That’s a big hole. We talked this week at practice that we couldn’t do that,” Speak said. “We came out here, we accidentally did it, and we just couldn’t get back into the game really.”
Although Douglas settled down, permitting just two Wayne baserunners the rest of the way, her offense left six on base.
“(Douglas) has been in this moment before. She just kept grinding out at-bats for us and she came back well. Our defense didn’t help us out at the beginning, but thy came around. We just couldn’t put any runs up on the board,” Speak said.
Five of the six Hastings runners Kniesche stranded were left in scoring position. The Tigers’ attempted recipe for success was similar to what other opponents have tried against Wayne.
The Tigers swiped second base four times, and, on occasion, tried to bunt.
“We’ve struggled with cutting runners down,” Sweetland said. “A lot of teams have try to turn to bunting and it’s not easy to bunt on (Kniesche) either. But I’d probably be trying the same thing. I’d be shortening swings, trying to bunt, and moving runners, too.”
Wayne won its second game of the day 8-0 over Seward in five innings. The Blue Devils play at 4:30 p.m. Thursday against Beatrice.
Hastings falls into the loser’s bracket and plays an elimination game against No. 1 Skutt, which lost to No. 8 Seward 7-1.
“Now everybody that we play and beat, they go home,” Speak said.
Hastings.............000 000 0 — 0 1 4
Wayne................310 000 X — 4 4 0
W — Tori Kniesche. L — Elle Douglas.