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Maize South's Taylor Mannis celebrates after scoring in the tying run in the sixth inning against Goddard in the Class 5A regional championship game Wednesday. Maize South went on to win 4-3.

Maize South's Taylor Mannis celebrates after scoring in the tying run in the sixth inning against Goddard in the Class 5A regional championship game Wednesday. Maize South went on to win 4-3. Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle | Buy this photo

Maize South hands Goddard its first loss in softball regional final

Published May 21 at 10:40 p.m. | Last updated May 22 at 8:41 a.m.

Maize South softball coach Teri Larson fought the postgame tears valiantly Wednesday night, battling to speak coherently. It was a battle that really didn’t need to happen, for those tears of utter happiness were perfectly appropriate.

The Mavericks upset previously unbeaten Goddard 4-3, scoring four unanswered runs in the final two innings of the Class 5A regional at Goddard. Maize South advances to the 5A tournament in Manhattan on May 29 and 30.

The Mavericks (18-4) beat Valley Center (13-8) 4-3 in the regional semifinal. Goddard (20-1) had a bye.

“We worked so hard,” said Larson, whose mother-in-law died in the past week. “We had a tough schedule. Carroll and Goddard took it to us the first couple times. I knew we were better than that. I said, ‘We’ve just got to play our ‘A’ game, and it’s going to give us a chance.’ I think we got our ‘A’ game tonight.”

As thrilling as the win was for Maize South, which lost to Goddard 4-0, 11-1 on May 14 in an Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail Division II matchup, it was equally disappointing for the Lions.

There had been hopes, expectations even, of playing for a 5A title in Manhattan on May 30.

“It’s awful,” Goddard coach Rita Smith said. “I feel for the girls. We had one incredible season. It’s a tribute to our league for how tough it is.”

Maize South senior pitcher Kelsey Sterneker, who threw all 14 innings of the two regional games, opened the regional championship by striking out two. But the Lions got the game’s first run off an error that allowed Miranda Rohleder to score.

In the third, Goddard added two more runs off a Rohleder double.

“When you jump on a team like that early, you’ve got to keep putting the pressure on,” Smith said. “We didn’t score after the third inning, right?”

Sterneker gave up two hits over the final four innings and struck out seven in the game.

Maize South had its own offensive issues as Goddard pitcher Megan Graf faced the minimum through the fourth.

While the Mavericks didn’t score in the top of the fifth, there was a changed call on Kerrigan Dixon’s bunt. Initially she was called out, but it was reversed. While Graf got the next three batters out, the call had given Maize South some momentum.

And then Larson made a decison to go to small ball and bunt.

“I don’t think any of us saw it coming,” Sterneker said. “Larson likes to pull those things out wherever she can. It worked. You have to give her credit for that.”

Annika Bray singled to put runners on first and third with one out, so Larson told Taylor Mannis, a speedy center fielder, to bunt. She did, up the third-base line. Goddard third baseman Morgan Bohanan chose to throw home, but Kinzie Drake was safe.

Shelby Mansfield followed by bunting to Graf, who threw home again. Bray was safe.

“We just didn’t execute,” Smith said. “We didn’t get outs when we needed outs. We were trying to get outs at home when we should have been going to (first base). I don’t know. This one is going to stick around for a while.”

Maize South tied the score when Dixon bunted up the first base side, and Goddard’s Julisa Ortega threw home. Mannis slid wide of the tag and was safe to tie the score 3-3.

“You’ve got to put the ball in play to make something happen,” Larson said. “We weren’t doing it early, so when we got the bunts down, we knew we had a lot of team speed, we just decided this was our best bet. It gets you confidence and then things start to happen.”

Maize South scored the go-ahead run on a Goddard error.

In Goddard’s final chance, Rohleder walked but was called out for leaving the base early. Two batters later, the game was over.

“We went last year (to state), but this year just seemed even more special because all the odds were against us,” Mannis said. “… We did what we needed to do at the end.”

Maize South 4, Goddard 3

Maize South00000314 3 1
Goddard00010003 7 3

W — Sterneker. L — Graf.

Maize South 4, Valley Center 3

Valley Center10001013 5 1
Maize South110011x4 11 2

W — Sterneker. L — Spears.

Reach Joanna Chadwick at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachadwick.