Molly Jones' 3-runs home run keys 5-runs fifth inning as Lady Hornets win district semifinal over Kirksville 7-4 Thursday. CHS will face top seed Marshall for repeat crown, state berth at noon Saturday
BOONVILLE, Mo. — For the fifth game in a row, the Chillicothe (Mo.) High School softball Lady Hornets used one big inning to pave the way to victory Thursday, this time to extend their 2017 season and earn a crack at a second-straight district championship and appearance in state play.
Having delivered lead-seizing, 2-outs, run-scoring singles in the first and third innings, Lady Hornets senior pitcher and cleanup batter Molly Jones followed a Boonville throwing error that upped CHS’ lead from 2-1 to 3-1 with a booming drive over the left field fence for a 3-runs home run and 6-1 margin. A fifth run of the inning scored later on Laney Gaston’s 2-outs infield hit and Chillicothe rode that mid-game outburst to a 7-4 triumph over second-seeded Kirksville in the Class 3 District 13 Tournament semifinals.
The game was a bit of a novel experience for both teams as, due to rain Wednesday and again Thursday morning, the tournament’s quarterfinal and semifinal games were shifted from a standard, natural-grass field at Rolling Hills Park to the fully-artificially-turfed Boonville High baseball field.
Given that the Boonville weather forecast between now and Saturday’s scheduled noon-hour championship game between third seed Chillicothe (18-6) and top seed Marshall anticipates continued rain, if the title game is played that day, it also might well be played on the ersatz grass at the casino-revenue-funded school facility.
Marshall moved into the title game – a repeat of last year’s finale won by Chillicothe at Marshall – by ripping Boonville 11-1 Thursday night. Boonville had bested Moberly in the quarterfinal round in the day’s opening game.
If inclement weather precludes the championship game from taking place Saturday, it is likely it will be moved to Monday, since the state tournament’s first-round game is not due to be played until next Wednesday.
Thursday’s Chillicothe-Kirksville clash was the second meeting of the squads this fall, both occurring on neutral fields.
Once more, the victor produced seven runs, but the Lady Hornets – nipped by the Lady Tigers 7-6 in the third-place game of early September’s Putnam County Invitational tourney – had a bit of breathing room this time.
Their huge fifth inning continued their recent trend of bursting a game open with one explosive frame.
The trend began when they put five runs on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first inning en route to defeating Midland Empire Conference champion Smithville 9-5 and continued with a 7-runs first against Macon next time out.
Then came a meeting with St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond’s struggling program and a 12-runs first before they stunned previously-once-beaten Trenton with a sudden 3-runs fourth this past Monday in a 3-0 road win.
Thursday in district play, Chillicothe again put its offense in high gear in the middle innings.
Top-of-the-order batter Libby Adkins legged out a looper over the pitcher to get things started. Harlie Jones then waited out a base on balls to heighten the pressure on Kirksville’s defense, which would finish the game with four errors, according to the CHS scorebook.
One of those came when, with Lady Hornets head coach Mike Jones – his team already up 2-1 –eschewing the sacrifice bunt in favor of going for a big inning, Abby Jones hit a groundr toward the hole at shortstop. The KHS shortstop got to the ball in plenty of time, but, with the speedy Adkins nearing third, rushed her throw and fired it low and past the Lady Tigers third baseman into foul territory. By the time it was recovered, Adkins was across the plate without a play for a 3-1 lead and H. and Mo. Jones were standing at third and second bases, respectively – still with no outs.
Having followed little sister Abby’s 2-outs double in the top of the first with a run-scoring hit to center and then grounding a RBI hit into left to drive home Adkins, who had singled on the infield to start the third, Mo. Jones stepped into the batter’s box to face KHS starting and losing pitcher Maddie Ellis a third time.
For a third time, the CHS starting pitcher won the battle with her opposite number, this time in a much-more damaging way.
The righthanded-hitting Chillicothean tied into a 2-2 delivery from the righthanded hurler and launched it high and deep to left field. As the Kirksville left field gazed in vain, the ball landed about 10 feet beyond the barrier and, with one swing of Mo. Jones’ bat, the Lady Hornets had doubled their runs output for the game from three to six.
Wisely, Chillicothe didn’t stop there.
Relief pitcher Audrey Danielson hit McKenna Poling with a 1-out offering and elected to throw out batter Jylian Davis at first on a comebacker, rather than try to retire the lead runner.
That proved costly when sophomore Jordan Hibner singled Poling to third base and Gaston punched a slow grounder to the hole on the left side of the infield and legged it out for a run-scoring hit, making it 7-1.
As has become, more or less, routine down the stretch of this Chillicothe season, coach Jones switched pitchers in mid-game, bringing Jylian Davis in from left field to replace Mo. Jones to begin the home half of the fifth inning.
The reliever encountered a bit of turbulence in the fifth, allowing a run on two hits and a groundout, then left a KHS runner on in the sixth to make it 7-2 entering the final inning.
When a walk and squib hit to third opened the Lady Tigers’ seventh, coach Jones flip-flopped his pitcher and left fielder again, summoning eldest daughter Molly back to the pitcher’s circle.
Mo. Jones (9-5) surrendered a hard-hit single on the ground between third and short to the next batter and when the ball wasn’t fielded cleanly in left field, both runners wound up scoring with the batter going to second.
With the potential tying run now waiting in the on-deck circle, the CHS pitcher toughened. She fielded a grounder back to her for the first out, induced a groundout to shortstop for the second, and then squeezed a popup for the game’s last out, stranding a runner at third.
After Chillicothe broke on top with its 2-outs flurry in the first inning, Kirksville tied it in its half, but missed a chance to tighten the screws on the Lady Hornets and force them to play catch-up.
An inning-opening error and a 1-out hit squared things at 1-1, but groundout to second baseman Hibner left the bases loaded and the contest still knotted at 1-1.
Once Mo. Jones smacked her second RBI single in the third, Chillicothe was in front to stay.
However, right before the Lady Hornets made things more comfortable, Kirksville cost itself a chance to draw even or go in front.
The Lady Tigers got a leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth, but CHS senior catcher Poling threw Anna Moore out trying to steal second.
A couple of pitches later, starting and losing KHS pitcher Maddie Ellis lifted a drive over Davis’ head in left field for a double. However, the courtesy runner who subbed for her was gunned down by first baseman Gaston trying to advance after shortstop Maddie Graham fielded a grounder and threw to Gaston for the second out. The unusual 6-3-6 double play ended the inning and preserved the 1-run CHS lead the Lady Hornets soon multiplied by six.
Statistically, Mo. Jones’ 3-for-4 game and five runs driven in with the bat was the game’s highlight.
In her pitching stints, she combined to work 5-2/3 innings, allowing nine hits, but only two runs – one unearned.
Contributing two hits and two runs scored each were Adkins and A. Jones.
Each side left seven runners on.