By CONOR NICHOLL
On April 12, Canton-Galva/Elyria Christian softball faced nearby rival Marion. Second-year Canton-Galva coach Reann Buchanan is a Marion graduate. In 2021, Marion enjoyed the best season in school history and went to state for the first time. On April 13, 2021, Marion swept the Eagles by a combined score of 34-3 in a doubleheader.
This spring, C-G returned significant experience from an 8-11 squad that took multiple close losses.
The group included senior catcher Gracie Kidd, senior first baseman/pitcher Taygen O’Hara, senior outfielder Nicole Miller and junior shortstop/pitcher Brecken Pearson. Kidd has committed to Tabor College softball.
“They have had some pretty big hits for us, which has allowed runs to come in, so that really gets us rolling, and that momentum we just build on,” Buchanan said.
Sophomore Jordan Friesen has served as a key pitcher. Julia Allen plays third base, Kinsey Dawes is mainly at second base. The outfield has Miller, Brooke Stephan and Raegan Hawkinson. Cora Champ has been one of the top hitters. Hawkinson, from Elyria Christian, had never played softball before, though has showcased great speed.
“We have had great improvement from all the players,” Buchanan said.
Canton-Galva was 4-1 entering the Marion doubleheader. Marion returned key seniors Jayden May and Mickelly Soyez, both whom hit above .525 last spring.
“As a team, we were just starting out, so this year, we wanted to come hard, because we knew they had won last year, so we definitely have to bring some competition to them,” Buchanan said.
The Eagles captured the first contest, 19-9.
“My girls were backing me, and they were like, ‘We have to win this for you,’ and I was like, ‘Yes, please,’” Buchanan said. “And we all know each other, and I could tell that the girls were itching to win.”
In the second contest, Canton-Galva trailed by four runs in the bottom of the last inning. C-G loaded the bases. Pearson, the leadoff hitter and one of the team’s best batters, was up. Buchanan reminded her, “we need four more runs to win.” Pearson told her coach: “All right, I got it.” She went to a 1-2 count. The Eagles were down to their final strike.
Then, Pearson blasted a ball to the left-center field gap. Canton-Galva does not have a normal length softball fence, which are generally around 200 feet.
“It rolls forever, and so if you can outrun it, you can get a home run, and so she was booking it,” Buchanan said.
The girls enjoyed a big celebration to celebrate the walk-off grand slam and 11-10 victory. Buchanan labeled the home run “probably one of her highlight reels” for Pearson.
“She runs as hard as she can, and when the girls all got out there, it was great,” Buchanan said. “I don’t think we experienced anything like that as a team.”
On April 22, Canton-Galva improved to 10-4 with a doubleheader sweep of Sedgwick, 16-1 and 16-3. The Eagles have already exceeded last season’s win total and have a strong chance for the best season in school annals.
Additionally, C-G/EC is part of a growing trend of co-ops for softball. KSHSAA representative Jeremy Holaday confirmed to SIK on April 22 that Kansas has six more co-ops this year than last.
Canton-Galva is part of the Belleville-Republic County regional with Ell-Saline (14-0), Sacred Heart (8-8), Sterling (8-8) and Republic County (7-7), per official KSHSAA standings. Ell-Saline, which went to state last season, has ace pitcher Raleigh Kramer, a Southwestern College softball signing.
C-G defeated Sterling 6-5 and 23-13 on April 8. In the 6-5 win, Pearson delivered a walk-off RBI single on a full count. Friesen struck out 15 in the victory, while O’Hara and Kidd both homered. The Eagles took 12-7 and 15-0 losses to Ell-Saline on April 19. Ell-Saline has posted five shutouts and allowed three runs or less in five other games. Canton-Galva reached Kramer for 16 hits and seven runs.
“That was interesting, because my girls were actually hitting (Kramer) way better than I had expected,” Buchanan said. “So she does pitch fast, and we have been in the cage a lot prepping for that because I knew that between Sterling and Ell-Saline and Marion, their pitchers were very accurate, they just pitch faster than some of the teams that we have seen before, but I was pleasantly surprised, they hit pretty well off of her.”
Last season, Canton-Galva went through multiple shoulder injuries. One of the players suffered injury during volleyball and was not able to play. C-G concluded last spring with 10 players. Canton-Galva baseball finished with seven and had to cancel the rest of the 2021 season.
C-G baseball started the co-op process with nearby Elyria Christian. The softball program joined, too. Buchanan said C-G baseball has a “good number” of players from Elyria Christian. Softball has two players from EC, and Buchanan looks for more in the future.
Buchanan has been umpiring since she was 14 and played softball for many years. She had some interest to play softball at Tabor, though elected to be a student at KU. Last season, she started her teaching and coaching career as a math instructor at Canton-Galva. She had coached 8-and-under softball before. When she was hired at C-G, the program had lost its softball coach.
“Going into my teaching program, I was really excited because then I could coach softball,” Buchanan said.
C-G opened with a 17-7 loss to Whitewater, in a loss that Buchanan said the team had first-game jitters. The second contest was rained out, and C-G eventually won the makeup contest, 12-8 in another close win. The game was tied at eight in the top of the seventh before the Eagles delivered four runs to win. Miller struck a two-run triple, C-G had a RBI groundout and a RBI single.
C-G also split with Bennington on April 14. In the 11-4 win against Bennington, Pearson went 4 of 4 with two runs scored. Canton-Galva is scheduled to play Moundridge in a Friday doubleheader. Senior Night will occur between the games.
“Our bats, we have been hitting and running a lot better than we did last year,” Buchanan said.