ROYAL CENTER | Long after the sting of Tuesday's 12-7 Class A Regional Championship loss to Pioneer fades away, the significance of what the Kouts softball team accomplished this season will forever remain.
The Fillies came up short in their attempt to continue their storybook season, falling to the Panthers in an error-filled game on both sides.
Kouts was making its first appearance in a regional championship game after becoming the first team in school history to record double-digit victories, finish with a winning record and win a sectional title.
"I will remember how hard this team worked at everything," Kouts coach Tim McNeill said. "They've done so many firsts, and it's been so exciting."
Pioneer sophomore pitcher Betsy Bingaman had six RBIs, including a game-tying grand slam in the fourth inning. Bingaman drove in another two runs in the sixth as the Panthers (18-13) won their fourth regional championship and first since 2005.
"We knew that they were a good hitting team and we wanted to keep the ball low," McNeill said. "We struggled with being able to do that and they were able to get some good hits from that."
The Panthers jumped out quickly with a two-run home run from sophomore Lindsey Miller in the first inning. Looking anything but rattled, Kouts responded with seven runs in the second inning as 12 batters came to the plate.
Like they had all season, the Fillies (13-11) got contributions from all levels of experience in the second inning. Seniors Kelsey Blood and Easten McNeil delivered key hits, but it was freshman Breanna Seber who had perhaps the biggest hit when she laced a two-run single into left field that gave the Fillies their first lead ever in a regional game.
"We've had such a good mix of older and younger players doing things for us this year," McNeill said. "Hopefully the younger players have learned from the example set by the seniors and will carry this forward."
As the Fillies carried a 7-2 lead into the third inning, the Panthers went to work. Bingaman's grand slam tied the game in the fourth and Pioneer added another run to take the lead. The Panthers then had two runs apiece in the fifth and sixth innings to pull away from Kouts. The Fillies collected just two hits after the second inning and no other runner reached second base.
"I just had a feeling that seven (runs) wasn't going to be enough," McNeill said. "Their pitcher changed her philosophy. We knew that she would be aggressive in the beginning and we took advantage of that. Once we scored those runs, she went with more changeups. I don't know if we got the lead and we started looking at that short fence, but we couldn't get it going again."
The loss was especially painful for McNeil, as his daughter, Easten, was one of five seniors that played their final game on Tuesday. While McNeill was able to put the loss in perspective immediately, he knows it will take time before his players will realize the gravity of what they've accomplished.
"That's what we talked about after the game and right now it's very difficult for them," McNeill said. "They did so much for not only themselves, but for the school and the community as well. We had a Memorial Day parade on Monday and they marched in that. That's the first time anything like that has happened."