As all area sports fans know, the Chadron High athletic teams had an array of highlights this fall with each of the teams having something to be proud of:
--The young volleyball team showed great improvement as the season progressed.
-- The football team doubled its number of wins from the previous season and reaching the playoffs.
--The girls’ golf team, led by Alpine Hickstein’s all-class best score at the state tournament, claimed runner-up honors there.
--The boys’ cross country team qualified for state for the first time.
--And, the softball team won the Class C-6 District championship and went to the state tournament again after a 12-year absence and for the third time in school history.
The softball team racked up another milestone, posting a 21-12 record. Its banner season was not a great surprise. The Cardinals were extra competitive in 2016, finishing with a 16-14 record with only two seniors on the roster.
“Before the season began, we set goals to win districts and compete at state,” coach Jodi Hendrickson said. “We knew it would take dedication and team work. We discussed having three jobs: at bat, in the field and lifting up our teammates.”
The Cardinals didn’t have instant success. In the first two weeks, they lost three times to upstart Alliance, a team they had previously clobbered on a regular basis, and had a 3-6 record after losing all four games at the McCook Tournament on Sept. 2.
Things turned around the next weekend at the Scottsbluff Tournament. The Red Birds finally beat Alliance—4-3 in the opening game. They also won the next four games, all of them by at least six runs, and were the tournament champs. Softball was fun again.
“That was the turning point of our season,” Hendrickson said. “After an error, we watched these ladies turn to their teammates and say, ‘my bad,’ pick up dirt and throw it away. They had short memories and kept on working toward the goals.”
Following the tourney championship, the Cardinals were 8-6 and went 12-4 during the next month prior to heading to the state tourney.
The District Tourney that Chadron hosted brought some distress. After a 13-2 win over Ord, Southern Valley/Alma upset the Cards 10-8 in the semifinals. Then it rained and the comeback bid had to be delayed until the next day, increasing the anxiety.
But the Cardinals proved they were not down and out, and won three games in about six hours.
They initially disposed of Centura/Central Valley 12-3 in the elimination game early Saturday, and scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth to edge Southern Valley 16-13 in one of the most thrilling games ever played at Hampton Field before blanking the Southern Valley Saints 11-0 in the finale to clinch the district title and the trip to state. Whew!
At state, the Cards went 1-2, being edged by Arlington 2-1 in the opening round, thumping West Point Guardian Angels 13-5 and then falling to Fairbury 10-8.
Five seniors provided much of the spark.
Catcher Kylee Garrett certainly did her share, collecting 61 hits in 108 at bats for a resounding .565 average that included 11 home runs to tie the school record she had set the previous year and also led the way by scoring 61 runs and driving in 50.
Garrett wrapped up her brilliant prep career with 184 hits in 347 at bats for a .530 average and Class C all-state honors. Her 29 career home runs is not only a school record but ranks second all-time in the state in Class C.
She struck out only 11 times in 200 at bats the past two years.
Dana Dunbar also was exceptional throughout her career. This year, she collected 44 hits in 105 at bats for a .419 average, scored 55 times, drove in 37 runs and did a bulk of the Cardinals’ pitching. Her career batting average is around .430 after she hit .455 as a freshman, .406 as a sophomore and .441 last season.
The other seniors also were major contributors. Third sacker Hannah Kennell hit. 367 and outfielders Kyler Behrends and Mia Brodrick .338 and 276, respectively, this season.
Junior Micah Stouffer, who lives in the Rushville area, proved to be a great addition to the team this season. She finished with a .419 batting average with 44 hits in 105 at bats and was the Cards’ No. 2 pitcher.
Stouffer hit just one home run, but it came at the best time possible. It was her blast off the scoreboard in center field at Hampton Field that provided the three runs in the bottom of the sixth to nip Southern Valley 16-13 in the dramatic District Tournament contest.
Another junior, first baseman Peyton Underwood, also swung a big bat, finishing with a .391 average. Although she struck out 23 times, Underwood also delivered an array of clutch hits, driving in 44 runs.
Next fall, the Cards also will return their dependable double play combination of shortstop Madisyn Hamar and second baseman Malia Burwell, both sophomores this season. Hamer hit .362 and scored 40 times. While Burwell didn’t bat fulltime, she was certainly an asset when she reached base, stealing 12 times without being thrown out.
Another soph, Dawn Dunbar, also was a stalwart on this year’s team, both at the plate and in the field.
The stats accompany this story.