Flying High: Ell-Saline Cards Back in State Tournament

In the final doubleheader of the regular season, Ell-Saline’s Raleigh Kramer reached a milestone. The junior pitcher logged her 100th strikeout of the 2021 campaign.

Nine days later, Kramer powered the Cardinals to their first state tournament appearance in six years.

The exceptional hurler scattered six hits in 14 innings of work and drove in three at the plate on four hits as Ell-Saline downed Republic County and Saline County rival Sacred Heart in a pair of 8-2 decisions Thursday at the Salina Softball Fields. Ell-Saline (20-3) will head to the Class 2-1A state tournament in Pratt for the first time since 2015.

Kramer and the Cardinals had the tough challenge of cooling off the Sacred Heart bats. Just before the regional championship, the Knights hammered second-seeded Ellis 15-4 in six innings, accumulating 18 hits in the win.

Ell-Saline’s defense struggled in the opening frame, allowing two runners to reach the bags on two errors. Kramer finished off the first with her second punch out. However, Sacred Heart pitcher Emilee Blythe would steal the show, striking out the first seven batters she faced.

With two down in the third, No. 9 hitter Lani Richards approached the plate. The sophomore drew a walk that would jumpstart the Cardinal offense in a game-changing frame. Sadie Bradley followed with a single and a stolen base, putting runners on second and third.

Reece Ditto stepped to the dish and tapped a pitch back to Blythe. Blythe came out of the circle and launched a throw over the head of Teghan Slagle, plating two for Ell-Saline. Kramer singled, setting up freshman Brin Hecker. The first baseman hit the ball to third. Emily DeMars made a wild throw, scoring two more. After the dust settled, Hecker was at third with Blythe walking back to the circle. Hecker sprinted home and scored, handing Ell-Saline a 5-0 advantage.

Sacred Heart’s best chance of retaliation was in the fourth. The Knights loaded the bases after hits by Emma Clouse and Maegan Torrey. Kramer forced a couple popups, but then walked in Sacred Heart’s first run. Kramer worked out of the jam in the at-bat versus Kelsie Gack, who suffered from tough-luck liners to Ell-Saline defenders.

Katherine Bergkamp trimmed the deficit to 6-2 in the fifth with a RBI double, but the Knights suffered from two more errors in the sixth, leading to two runs for the Cards to put the game out of reach.

Bergkamp had a monster day for he Knights, driving in five total runs on three hits. Blythe finished with 11 strikeouts inside the circle and had five hits at the plate, including two triples and a double. Gack cruised in the regional semis, giving up seven hits and striking out nine. Sacred Heart ends the campaign at 12-11.

Kramer held Republic County to just two hits and Sacred Heart to six with 15 combined strikeouts. At the plate, she went 4-for-7 with three RBI and three runs scored.