By CONOR NICHOLL
Udall softball is historically one of Kansas’ elite 2-1A softball teams. Of all the Eagle athletic programs, softball has enjoyed the most success. Legendary coach Jack Kistler retired last spring after 21 seasons. It took him 455 games to win 400, a milestone he reached in 2019.
From ’03-18, Udall softball made state on eight occasions, and finished third or better each year. Udall won titles in ’06 and ’11. Those crowns and 1973 volleyball are the lone team state titles in Udall history.
Overall, Kistler finished 407-70 with two firsts, five seconds, three thirds and three fourths. Udall won 15 league titles, including 14 straight. Kistler was an assistant from ’99-00 and head coach ’01-21.
South Haven is 40 miles south of Udall on I-35. In 2014, then-sophomore Ciara Wiley and her teammates went to the school board and raised $7,550 in two weeks so the Cardinals could start a high school softball team. Wiley’s mom, Twaila, served as head coach during successful seasons. From ’16-19, South Haven posted four winning marks, including a 15-8 record in ‘18.
However, both teams experienced a downturn last spring.
Brad Schafer, in his third season at Udall, took over softball for 2022. Wiley is now a South Haven teacher. She was the assistant for her mom in ’21 for a one-win team. Mother-daughter flipped roles in ‘22 for South Haven, which currently co-ops with nearby Caldwell in softball.
On April 18, Udall and South Haven/Caldwell met in softball for the 16th time since 2016. This time, the inexperienced programs yielded Udall 50, South Haven/Caldwell 46.
This is widely believed to be the highest scoring softball game in national high school history.
Per a May 6, 2021 MaxPreps story, the most combined runs in a softball game came in 2011 when Cuyama Valley defeated Coast Union, 48-47, in California. SIK has confirmed the score from Udall, Caldwell, the Kansas State High School Activities Association and the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
The Kansas record was 75 combined runs: Bennington 46, Little River 29 from 2021, per the Hall of Fame.
SIK and the Hall of Fame are looking to confirm other state/national records, but a full boxscore had not been procured as of Saturday night. Neither team uses Game Changer or other similar well-known scoring systems. As of Friday morning, Schafer had not tallied a full box score. Wiley’s grandmother has been in the hospital, and she missed the contest, the only game she has not been at this spring.
Udall has 14 players on its roster, 70 percent who are in their first season. South Haven/Caldwell has three who have ever played before. Both teams are in the Central Burden regional. Udall is currently 2-10, and SHC is 0-7, according to KSHSAA results.
All of Udall’s losses have come by at least 15 runs. Udall’s other victory was a 14-6 win versus non-KSHSAA Wichita-Sunrise Christian Academy on April 7. SHC’s first six losses all came by at least 15 runs.
Wiley did not respond to multiple text messages and phone calls from SIK.
“It was two pretty evenly matched teams, and both pitchers seemed to have a problem adjusting to the umpire’s strike zone,” Schafer told SIK. “He was pretty tight with his calls, and … 10 of our 14 girls are new to the program. So getting them to relax and be aggressive and swing the bat at things that are close is one thing that we have been working on all season. And we are starting to get there.”
The result has produced detractors and some non-positive comments on social media, in a similar vein to the 106-98 Marmaton Valley win against Oswego on Oct. 8 last fall. That is the highest scoring game in Kansas football history and among the biggest scores nationally. MV finished 4-5. Oswego has enjoyed success under veteran coach Matt Fowler, though had a litany of adverse situations and went 3-6 in ’21.
Both Schafer and Fowler – who don’t know each other – expressed similar positive thoughts about the record-breaking games, including themes of perseverance, grit and teamwork, values of high school sports. Multiple new Udall players have been happy they came out for the season.
“They have a love of sport,” Schafer said.
For Schafer, he saw an inexperienced team enjoy a comeback. Udall has three seniors, Zoey McDaniel, Brae Burley and Elizabeth Nye, whom Schafer complimented for being good leaders. Burley and Nye have experience, McDaniel has not played since grade school.
“It was one of those things where we were up, I want to say third, fourth, fifth inning, and then they came back and tied it up and took the lead briefly,” Schafer said. “It just was one of those moments where you are proud of your team, because when they took the lead, it could have been ‘OK, game over, we are done,’ but it kind of showed their heart, that they were willing to dig a little bit deeper and continue to fight, and eventually took the lead back and kept it.”
Udall has two juniors, Anna Sade and Isabel Wooley. Schafer labeled the freshmen and sophomores building blocks for the future. Sade came out her freshman year in the season cancelled by COVID and did not play last season. Wooley played the last two springs.
“That leadership there, even though it’s a limited number of players is very important, and we have got a great group of sophomores,” Schafer said. “And a good group of freshmen to follow that up. … Down the road, if those girls will stick at it, it’s going to be a very good team in the near future.”
The South Central Border League features eight-man schools that sometimes co-op together for other sports. South Haven/Caldwell will form a new co-op in football this fall. Udall has 102 students, per KSHSAA. South Haven, which has never reached the state softball tournament, has 52 students. Caldwell has 60.
The game was scheduled for 4 p.m. but started 10 minutes early because both teams were ready. The contest finished just short of 7:30 p.m. While many games this spring have been affected/postponed by high winds, Schafer said weather did not play in a major role in 50-46.
“Weather-wise, it wasn’t too bad of a day,” Schafer said. “I mean, it was a little bit cooler this spring than it has been in the past, but I have got to agree that the wind has been one of the things that has been a factor. I think we are three-quarters or more done with the season, and I think we have had maybe one or two days to play that have been very good weather. Kind of odd for this time of year.”
Udall and SH/C was scheduled for a second game. Both umpires traveled together. One of the umpires suffered injury. The teams are going to work on a re-schedule.
“When we sent the ump that was injured to be checked out, the other ump had to follow him, because he was in his car,” Schafer said.
When the injury happened to the umpire, Udall had a few minutes of down time. Udall was in the dugout. Udall’s principal was at the game, and he mentioned 50-46 was the highest scoring softball game he had ever seen. Schafer looked at him and said, “well, probably some kind of record.” One of the girls took out her phone and found the 95 combined runs in the California game.
“Ours was 96,” Schafer said. “And we were like, ‘We think it is a record.’”
On Friday night, I reached out to coach Fowler, one of the state’s top eight-man football coaches and well-known for his leadership and perspective. Fowler could provide a view on being the opposing end of a record-breaking game.
Like 50-46, Fowler faced some negativity after 106-98 on a variety of topics, including lack of defense and other similar comments.
“Anyone who would disparage or make comments like that, I don’t think really understands the value of what athletics are for,” Fowler said.
Fowler carries an 85-46 career record with stints at Spearville and Oswego.
“We don’t play it just so that we can dominate,” he added. “I mean, that is nice and everything. You can have a lot of good memories and you can have a lot of fun on that side of it, but sports is about experience and ups and downs together and growing from them. That’s coach to athlete, and athlete teammate to teammate.”
He has had a winless season and an undefeated state championship year. Last fall ended a streak of nine straight winning years.
“The girls that played in that softball game, the game meant just as much to them as it would to a team that would be a state contender, anything like that,” Fowler said. “I am sure the game means a lot to those girls, and I am sure that they battled their tails off through the whole thing, and the opportunity to compete and the lessons that you learn from that are really why we play the game anyways.”
Fowler vividly remembers the 106-98 game. Before the contest, Fowler stood on the field with assistant coach Steve McBrien, and currently Oswego’s head boys’ basketball coach.
“I always like to go out on the field early and just kind of look at it for awhile while it’s empty,” Fowler said. “Maybe before either team is out there and just kind of think about the things that can take place on that field that night, because you can’t tell. You don’t know.
“I just like to appreciate that moment for a little bit that you don’t know on any playing field,” he added. “Playing court, whatever, what memories could be made or what moments a young person can have that can help them in their life.”
Fowler told McBrien: “Coach, I don’t know what’s going to happen on this field tonight.” Like Udall/South Haven-Caldwell, Oswego and Marmaton Valley were two evenly matched teams trying to find their footing in an up and down year.
“But there is going to be some great things, and there’s going to be some not great things,” he said. “I just can’t point it out. (McBrien) just kind of said, ‘It will be fun.’ And honestly, after that game was over, I was exhausted.”
The eight-man coach fraternity is strong. Fowler always has a big text message thread that he sends out to most of the eight-man coaches across the state. The group texts good luck and often checks in on each other. Fowler happened to look at his phone while the game was still going on. He wondered what time it was.
“Because it went on forever,” Fowler said.
Fowler had text messages asking: How did your game go? Fowler couldn’t respond yet. The game lasted 3 hours and 45 minutes.
“It was 10:30, and we were still out there playing,” Fowler said. “Then, when the game ended, I responded to them and told them what the score was and everything. And they were just ‘Holy cow.’”
In the fourth quarter, Fowler said both teams had played “so hard and were so spent.” Marmaton Valley outscored Oswego, 46-28, in the fourth quarter. The game had four scores in the last minute and a half. MV tallied the game-winning touchdown on a 33-yard run with six seconds remaining.
“It was a wild thing to be a part of,” Fowler said. “At no point during the game, did I ever imagine that we were setting some sort of record for scoring.”
Before last season, MV was a combined 6-20 in the last three falls and had to forfeit games in 2021. The record-setting game helped shape the Wildcats’ season and produced a massive night from freshman Jaedon Granere, a likely part of MV’s future.
“The boys just kept fighting,” MV coach Max Mickunas told the Iola Register after the game. “We (the coaches) came in here with the idea of trying to build a winning culture and a winning team. These boys have bought into that so far.”
In 2018, South Haven and Udall met in the sub-state championship game. Udall had the Enderud sisters, senior Chloe and freshman Emma. Udall won, 6-0, for Kistler’s last state qualifying team. That squad has freshman Aubrey Eilers, a then-freshman who hit a mammoth homer versus South Haven. Udall was one of five undefeated teams in all classifications entering state. The Eagles eventually finished fourth.
In 2019, Udall uncharacteristically opened 1-5 before 14 straight wins and a 15-6 record. Bluestem defeated Udall, 2-1, in the regional. COVID-19 cancelled 2020 for all Kansas spring sports. Udall graduated multiple key seniors from last season. Eilers was all-league softball in ‘21. Emma Enderud graduated in ’21 and is currently a key pitcher for Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa. Udall lost, 15-0, in regionals to eventual state qualifier Belle Plaine.
This season, Udall was able to field a team with several subs when new players came out. Those Eagles have helped Udall still have a season.
“They would come to me and say ‘hey, I am interested,’” Schafer said. “And It’s like OK, well come check it out and see if you like it, and if you do – go for it.’ And they have been willing to try.”
Like Mickunas at Marmaton Valley and Fowler, Schafer echoed similar sentiments after Udall’s historic victory. Wins have been challenging for Udall this school year. Volleyball finished 17-17. Udall has not made state volleyball since 1981.
Outside of softball, the lone other Udall state title came in 1973 volleyball. Udall girls’ basketball has two all-time state appearances, both in the ’70s, and won two games this winter, per KSHSAA archives. Per MaxPreps archives, last year’s lone softball win was an 18-8 victory versus South Haven/Caldwell.
Last Monday yielded national history – and also a comeback win for a team trying to start a new legacy.
“When they came back and took the lead, it would have been very easy for our girls to just go, ‘OK, game over, let’s move onto the second game,’” Schafer said. “But they dug deep and fought back. … It’s a good character builder.”