Kimberlin hopes to build on near miss
Near the gym at Eudora High School, there is a hallway where the plaques and trophies of past Cardinal teams and individuals mark their place in the school's history.
One marker, however, was absent. There have been no plaques or trophies of any kind commemorating Cardinal softball teams.
This year that vacancy has been filled.
The 2005 edition of the Eudora Cardinals managed to outpace any team before it and finally placed some hardware just south of the gymnasium.
"This was the farthest any (Eudora) softball team had gone," coach Cara Kimberlin said. "They finally put a softball trophy on the wall."
Although the team would have loved to put the state trophy in that hallway, the plaque for a second-place regional finish is quite an accomplishment considering how the season began for the Cards.
As the schedule kicked off, Eudora immediately faced one of the best pitchers in the league, Ottawa's Megan Ramsey.
The junior Cyclone shut down the Cardinal bats in the season opening doubleheader and quickly put Eudora in a 0-2 hole for the season.
"When the season began, we faced some pretty tough competition," Kimberlin said. "That's not an excuse but they were tough."
The Cardinals managed to get in the win column against Gardner, but failed to capture both wins in the doubleheader.
But it was another doubleheader against Spring Hill that put the team at its lowest point.
At their home ballpark, the Cardinals couldn't get past the Broncos' Amanda Phelps' stingy pitching and fell 3-1.
In game two, however, the bottom truly fell out.
The Cardinals managed to generate some much-needed offense and jetted out to a 5-0 lead. Eudora then rode the back of junior pitcher Karen Spence into the late innings.
The Broncos scratched across a pair of runs in the fifth and sixth, but their efforts seemed too little too late.
Then the seventh came and a deadly combination of the Bronco bats and Cardinal errors led to an eight-run final inning. The shell-shocked Cardinals lost 10-5.
"That was really a pretty ugly game," Kimberlin said. "We were just throwing the ball around and it hurt us."
At 1-5, the squad seemed poised to disappear from league contention and any hope of a post-season run.
"They just didn't seem to come together at the beginning," Kimberlin said. "It took them a little while to get some consistency together."
But the consistency came as the Cardinals pulled together a string of wins that pulled the team to the .500 mark.
It began with a doubleheader split against rival Baldwin and culminated with the destruction of the Central Heights Vikings, which saw the Cardinals score a combined 23 runs in two games.
It seemed at 6-6, the Cardinals had regrouped and found their way, but another set back was in store in the form of a three-game losing streak, which included a 5-2 loss to eventual regional champs, Louisburg.
That streak put the Cardinals to 6-9 and in danger of a falling regional seed.
With the expectations set by last year's 18-4 team still looming, it seemed the season was once again on the brink.
But the best was yet to come.
At the end of the year, the Cardinals turned it on to finish with a five-game winning streak.
The streak began on senior night as the Cardinals beat Baldwin for the second time in three games 5-0. The win over the Bulldogs gave a hint of the attitude the Cardinals showed for the rest of the season.
"They were really loose for that game," Kimberlin said. "Karen (Spence) pitched great and helped us win."
The relaxed atmosphere propelled the Cards to four more victories, including Paola and De Soto.
The win over the Panthers was especially welcome for Kimberlin.
"The Paola game was a real bright spot for us," she said. "They are a good team, and we just played our game. We pitched well and had some timely hits. I was real excited after that game."
The streak helped propel the 11-9 Cardinals to a No. 4 seed in the 4A regionals. It also galvanized a team that had already built a measure of confidence.
And as the tourney got underway, that confidence coupled with the pitching of sophomore Brynn Hamilton, who shouldered the tournament workload, put the Cardinals on the brink of a bus ride to Salina.
Eudora rolled over fifth-seeded West Franklin 9-1 and then brushed off the first-seeded Santa Fe Trail ChargersTeam's, earning a spot in the regional final and a rematch against Louisburg.
"They were a confident bunch going into that game," Kimberlin said. "They knew they were going to be in that game all along."
But that confidence couldn't help the Cardinals overcome the Wildcats, which held on for a 3-2 victory.
The first Eudora softball team to make it to a regional final would have to wait another year to make the next step.
"They had nothing to hang their heads about," Kimberlin said. "They came out fighting and went down fighting. What more could you ask?"
What started out as a season that seemed destined to sink into a quagmire, finished with a winning precedent.
The 2005 Cardinals, who finished 13-10, proved unwilling to go by the wayside in the quest for the state title.
The team fought back the entire year and exceeded the finish of last year's 18-win squad.
The taste of this year's success may carry over into next year.
But for now, the first Eudora softball trophy will sit alone in the high school trophy case, perhaps with a little room to its left in case next May provides for company.