Kaelan Schultz’s defense was as big as her bat during the first day of the Class B state softball tournament Wednesday.
And, boy, did her bat shine. More on that later.
Schultz speared the game-winning out in Hastings High’s 11-2 opening round win over Elkhorn at Smith Softball Complex that otherwise would have resulted in extra bases and then who knows what.
Her reaction time prompted a similar “Wow!” from the crowd in the Tigers’ 6-2 victory over Wahoo in the second round when she certainly saved the first run of the game from scoring by snagging another hard-hit ball off a Wahoo bat at the hot corner.
Later in the game, Schultz cut off a grounder headed for the six hole and her throw beat Jaiden Swanson to first base to save what would have been the tying run.
“She’s so good,” a jovial Faith Molina, the winning pitcher in both games, said of her teammate Schultz. “I love her.”
Said Hastings coach Ashley Speak: “She’s one of the best third basemen in the state and we can always count on her to make that play. She did it today and she’s done it all season.”
Now about that bat.
Schultz broke two records as her team made history of its own against Wahoo.
The Tigers went 2-0 on the opening day of the state tournament for the first time in program history.
Schultz set a new all-class home run record (previously held by Auburn’s Kylie Allen) with a pair of blasts and eclipsed the Class B record for career runs batted in.
The South Dakota State pledge lined a ball to straightaway center to boost Hastings’ lead to 3-0 in the third and then smoked a hanging breaking ball to lead off the sixth that clanked the bottom of the outer wall of the field close to 300 feet from home plate.
Those were Nos. 64, the tying mark, and 65, the new record.
“I’ve just been hitting like normal and I’ve been telling myself if it goes over, it goes over,” Schultz said while holding No. 64.
“No pressure at all,” she added with a smile.
Hastings, the second seed in Class B and 2020 runner-up, also seemed to play with no pressure in one of its most anticipated showings in its history.
Much of that has to do with its potent offense that collected 18 hits on the day. But credit is also due to Molina, who after a 106-pitch complete game win over Elkhorn held third seed Wahoo (28-4) to one hit through another seven innings.
Molina struck out 13 Warriors, including the final three she faced following a walk and an error to begin the seventh. The lone hit allowed was Kylee Kenning’s two-run home run in the fifth that trimmed the Hastings lead to one run.
The magic, Speak said, is in Molina’s face mask. Or rather when she’s without it?
“I asked her why she didn’t take it off earlier and she said she had to give up runs (first) because they’re superstitious people,” Speak said of pitchers. “She’s a kid that’s going to grind and she gutted out nine more outs and that’s what we needed from her.”
Against Elkhorn, when Molina surrendered her face mask on the tail end of an RBI single by Jordyn Rochholz in the third, the Hastings pitcher swiftly struck out the next two batters to end the inning and strand three Antlers.
The Tigers (34-4) earned the rematch they wanted with No. 1 Omaha Skutt in Thursday’s winner’s bracket final at 4:30 p.m. The Skyhawks (31-0) knocked off Norris 10-5 and Bennington 8-1.
ELK (17-15).......101 0xx x — 2 5 3
HAS (33-4)....370 1xx x — 11 10 1
W — Faith Molina. L — Claire Nuismer.
2B — H, Hudson, Mullen, Molina.
3B — H, Landgren.
HR — H, Long.
WAH (28-4).......000 020 0 — 2 1 1
HAS (34-4)........003 003 x — 6 8 1
W — Faith Molina. L — Autumn Iversen.
HR — H, Kaelan Schultz 2. W, Kylee Kenning.
Around the class
All of the higher seeds in Class B were winners on Wednesday.
Skutt kept its undefeated record intact with its pair of wins. Hannah Camenzind held off a late comeback by Norris in the the first round, throwing a complete game and striking out 10. Skutt only needed five hits to score 10 runs, benefitting from three Titan errors.
The Skyhawks didn’t separate themselves from Bennington until late, adding six runs between the fifth and sixth innings. Skutt homered five times in the nightcap. Lauren Camenzind left the yard twice against the Badgers (26-5), who beat Northwest in the early round 11-7 and homered in three consecutive at-bats.
Wahoo run-ruled Scottsbluff 13-5 to start with a 16-hit outburst and will meet either Norris or Northwest in Thursday’s 2 p.m. slate.
Scottsbluff, which collected 11 hits in the loss, will try to get its first-ever state tournament win when it meets Elkhorn in Thursday’s 9 a.m. elimination game. The Antlers struck first against Hastings, but the Tigers plated 10 unanswered runs in the next two innings to gain total control.