North Platte ascended from second best a year ago to GNAC Tournament champions.
The Lady Dawgs fended off opponents with three victories to clinch the GNAC title at Dowhower Softball Complex on Saturday, pushing their current hot-streak to 15 straight wins in the process.
"We were runner-up last year, so it’s nice to finally get the title," North Platte head coach Jeff Barner said. "Our girls are on a roll, and that’s important going into districts."
After a pair of 13-2 and 5-1 victories over Columbus and Gering in pool play, the Lady Dawgs clashed with McCook in the championship game. The Bison had knocked-off defending champ Hastings, but North Platte yielded little room for another upset.
North Platte (25-9) quickly took charge with eight unanswered runs through the first three innings, but the Bison didn’t blink. McCook mustered a five-run rally of their own in the fourth, trading blows with North Platte the rest of the way, despite North Platte winning 9-7.
"They always play us tough, and it just doesn’t matter when or where we’re playing," Barner said. "We’re two teams that know each other pretty well, so it’s always a tough matchup."
Ellie Hanson led the Lady Dawgs with four RBIs against McCook, which included a three-run double in the bottom of the first inning, sparking a six-run frame. Maddy Carr and Tatum Montelongo followed with two hits apiece and three combined RBIs.
Carr proved North Platte’s hottest bat on Saturday, finishing the tournament with four hits and five RBIs. Hanson followed with two hits and six RBIs, including a two-run homer against Gering. Sydney Barner also added a home run in the opening round against Columbus, finishing her day with three hits and four RBIs.
"Our girls battled and didn’t let any situation bother them," Barner said. "Our bats have been hot and even though not everything was perfect today with the wind blowing, our girls kept at it and didn’t let any of that phase them."
Montelongo, who pitched a combined 13 innings against Gering and McCook, allowed 13 hits and eight runs, while striking out 14 batters for North Platte.
North Platte opened the tournament with Columbus, clinging to a 1-0 lead before finding their groove at the plate in the bottom of the second inning.
With bases loaded, Carr cleared the infield with a three-run double, extending North Platte’s lead to 7-1. And it wouldn’t stop there for the Lady Dawgs.
Montelongo drove in Carr with an RBI double of her own, making it six hits and seven runs in the inning. The Lady Dawgs tacked on another three runs on Barner’s homer in the bottom of the third, forcing Columbus’ third pitching change of the game and extended the lead to 11-2.
North Platte ended the game with two more runs in the inning to secure a run-rule win.
In the battle of Bulldogs, Gering bit into the lead first by scoring a run in the top of the third inning.
It took some time, but the Lady Dawgs answered in the bottom of the fourth on a Montelongo RBI single to tie the game at 1-1. Then Josie Preece sacrificed a bunt to give North Platte a 2-1 lead.
North Platte tacked on another run in the bottom of the fifth to extend their lead to 3-1, and a two-run homer from Hanson opened a 5-1 gap in the bottom of the sixth.
Behind a sturdy defensive showcase, the Lady Dawgs held off Gering, 5-1, to punch their ticket back to the title game. Montelongo was credited with the win after posting four strikeouts, and giving up just one run.
The GNAC championship wrapped up the regular season for North Platte, which now enters Class A district play on a 15-game winning streak.
"We were actually looking to play Hastings for wildcard points in hopes of maybe hosting the district tournament here in North Platte, but it didn’t matter," Barner said. "When we did the math, it wouldn’t have mattered if it was McCook or Hastings. We’re on a roll, and hoping it continues wherever district play takes us."