By Kristi Nixon
MANLY — With a belief that they could overcome, Osage was faced with a tough-as-nails No. 1 Central Springs team that wouldn’t budge an inch in handing the Green Devils a 10-0, five-inning loss to end an incredible turnaround season.
First-year head coach Nick Hemann took a team that finished 12-16 overall in 2021 to a 22-7 record and a date in the 2A regional final, a game away from the state tournament.
“Hats off, man,” Hemann said. “I don’t know how many times they’ve been to state out of the last how many years. Obviously, it gives us something to emulate. I don’t know if we beat them 10 out of 10 times, but I’ll tell you this: every single one of those girls believed they could. We coached them to believe that they could, and that’s all I can ask, right?
“Were we outmatched? Maybe. We had a lot of girls who were underclassmen, only had two seniors. We’re excited to come back. We really are.”
Junior pitcher Cooper Klaahsen appeared to be on a mission, striking out the side in both the first two innings, not giving up solid contact even until the sixth batter in the Green Devil lineup.
The Green Devils didn’t get their first base runner until there was one out in the third on a hit by pitch for Aubrey Chapman. However, on a sacrifice bunt by Erica Gast, Chapman strayed a little too far off the second base bag and was tagged out. That was the only thing that prevented Klaahsen from picking up a perfect game.
And the start defensively was less than optimal as the hard-hitting Panthers continued to do what they have all season with a .404 team batting average, which is third in the state and tops in Class 2A. They are also second in the state in slugging percentage (.620), fourth in on-base percentage (.479) and second in fewest runs allowed (51).
Central Springs collected nine hits in the five innings, including five extra base hits.
This marks the eighth straight year the Panthers have made the state field.
It didn’t stop a huge following of Green Devils’ fans from showing up, including a tailgate RV with a green and black Osage flag and a half-dozen young girls standing outside of the dugout, chanting and cheering on their team.
“I told the girls, I said, “I don’t know if Osage softball for our first two home games for regionals seen anything like that. Show up here to an RV with a flag, signs . . .” Hemann said. “These girls are creating a culture, a program that is second to none. Kudos to them.
“I coached them hard; we coached them extremely hard. Some of them embraced it…”