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Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Softball Lady Hornets to Play at Home for State Quarterfinals Berth Saturday

Chillicothe sets up rematch with Savannah in district final at 1 p.m. at Danner Park by smashing Macon 10-3 Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Win avenged 6-3 Oct. 1 CHS loss at Macon, only defeat since Sept. 1

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Sophomore Kirsten Dunn of the Chillicothe (Mo.) HS softball Lady Hornets launches a second-inning pitch for a solo home run to left field, starting CHS toward its 10-3 victory over Macon in the Class 3 District 8 Tournament semifinals Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Chillicothe and Savannah will meet for the title and a berth in the state-tournament quarterfinals this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Daryl Danner Memorial Park.
  • Chillicothe will face Savannah, seeking first trip to state since 2016
  • Lady Hornets stunned last year's Class 3 state third-place finshers 10-0 at Savannah in Sept. 17
  • Dunn's first career HR in second inning ignited 13-hits offense
  • Boley struck out 16 and walked none in complete-game victory Thursday

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Although the 2020 Class 3 District 8 high school girls’ softball tournament bracket predicted otherwise, when east met west at Chillicothe’s Daryl Danner Memorial Park Thursday evening (Oct. 15), the west – including the host CHS Lady Hornets – was best.

In a district stretching from Missouri’s western border to nearly its northern and eastern boundary lines, Thursday’s semifinal round saw two of the more-western entries – third seed Chillicothe and fourth seed Savannah – vanquish eastern top two seeds – Macon and Kirksville, respectively, to earn the right to play Saturday at 1 p.m. for a berth in the 3-rounds state tournament.

The home-standing Lady Hornets, champions of the Midland Empire Conference, continued to pound the softball, ripping 13 hits, as they avenged a 6-3 Oct. 1 loss at Macon with a 10-3 verdict over MHS’ Clarence Cannon Conference champ Tigerettes.

That followed a tense battle between North Central Missouri Conference queen and No. 1 seed Kirksville and 2019 Class 3 state third-place finisher Savannah that, after six scoreless frames, tipped the Lady Savages’ way by a final score of 3-0.

When CHS followed with its emphatic triumph, it meant a district-finals rematch between MEC clubs which met at Savannah Sept. 17.

That midseason game, at a time Chillicothe had a .500 (4-4) record following an 0-4 start to its first season under head coach Lee Rucker, produced a shocking 10-0, 6-innings Lady Hornets victory. Home runs by Mika Hibner, Brooke Horton, and Bre Pithan and an 11-hits attack lavishly backed the 2-hits shutout of sophomore righthanded pitcher Kinlei Boley.

Now, the teams will clash again – this time on CHS’ home diamond and with Chillicothe (16-5) having won 16 of its last 17 games and Savannah (15-1) having not lost since.

The prior CHS-SHS clash had its unexpected tone set in the top of the first inning when a hit and a 1-out walk were followed by junior Hibner’s shot over the fence in center field.

With Boley in command in the pitcher’s circle – fanning nine and walking none while limiting the Lady Savages to two hits, Chillicothe never looked back.

If the Lady Hornets can find a way to best Savannah a second time, they’ll advance to state play for the 10th time in program history, but the first since 2016, and earn the right to host either Pleasant Hill or Odessa in the state-tournament quarterfinals next Wednesday evening.

Thursday’s game against Macon saw the Chillicothe bats stay hot and their gloves steady despite the first chilly-weather contest of the season.

Playing as the visitors on their home field, by pre-game coin flip, the Lady Hornets began warming to their task with one swing of the bat.

After neither side scored in the first inning, CHS sophomore shortstop and No. 5 hitter Kirsten Dunn stepped into the batter’s box with one out and none on in the second.

One of the team’s hottest hitters of late – and that’s saying something with the way Chillicothe has been mashing the ball, the righthanded hitter pounded a 2-1 pitch off the dirt and high over the third baseman’s head for a potential double, only to have the chopper angle past the base clearly on the foul side of the line.

Returning to the plate, rather than being at second, Dunn dug back in and timed the next offering better and met it more squarely. Rather than a ground ball or bouncer, she ripped a line drive toward left field which kept elevating until it sailed over the fence 200 feet away for a solo home run – the first of her high school career and the team’s 12th roundtripper of the season.

That resounding rip relieved Chillicothe of any reservations it had about whether it could extend its winning ways against the only team to vanquish it since Sept. 1.

After Boley quickly retired MHS in order in the bottom of the second, the Lady Hornets threw a crooked number on the scoreboard and, it would turn out, had enough runs to win.

Highly-effective No. 8 batter Pithan opened the top of the third with a bouncer up the middle and into center field. She took second as Halle Rucker rolled out to the third baseman and advanced to third when Sophia Luetticke’s tap back to the pitcher was momentarily fumbled before being thrown to first base too late.

Hope Helton, one of four 10th graders in the Chillicothe starting lineup, dribbled the ball softly up the first-base line. The first baseman charged and fielded it, but went to tag Helton as Pithan boldly dashed for home, making it 2-0.

Boley followed with a liner to left for a run-scoring double and Hibner sent a hit to right-center to plate Boley with a third run of the inning, giving the Lady Hornets a 4-0 advantage after 2½ innings.

When Macon responded with a batter reaching on an error, a bunt single, and a 2-runs double by Lexi Miller in the bottom half, the CHS lead was quickly halved. However, Boley bore down, striking out the next five Macon batters on her way to an outstanding 16-Ks performance, shepherding the game into the fifth inning with her team still on top, 4-2.

With the outcome still very much in doubt and perhaps hingeing on which team scored next, Chillicothe answered the challenge.

No. 9 batter H. Rucker rolled a grounder up the middle that was briefly bobbled and then thrown low and past the first baseman.

That defensive slipup opened the door a crack and the Lady Hornets barged through.

The fleet-footed Luetticke reached on a chopper to the third-base side on which the Macon pitcher, perhaps in frustration, threw much too late toward second and saw the ball deflect into the outfield, allowing the runners to reach second and third.

When Helton then pushed an opposite-field single just inside the right-field line, two runs scored easily, making it 6-2, Chillicothe.

Boley pulled another double down the left-field line and Hibner’s chopper up the middle, while producing an out at first, scored Helton and sent courtesy runner Jolie Bonderer from second to third. Following a popup, Mollie Ellis reached on a slow grounder to shortstop on which the low throw to first oozed out of the first sacker’s mitt for a moment. That miscue let another run score, giving CHS an 8-2 cushion.

Sophomore Kinlei Boley of the Chillicothe (Mo.) HS softball Lady Hornets delivers a first-inning pitch to a Macon Tigerette during Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020’s Class 3 District 8 Tournament semifinal game in Chillicothe. Although touched for seven hits, Boley did not walk or hit any MHS batters and, supported well by her defense, pitched the Lady Hornets to a 10-3 win which sent them into Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship game against Savannah.

Any real chance of a Macon miracle comeback probably died in the bottom half of the inning as the Tigerettes tried to blunt the momentum of Chillicothe’s 4-runs top half.

MHS’ Nos. 8 and 9 batters each doubled to lead off the home fifth, making the CHS lead five, but bringing the top of the batting order up with no outs. If the Tigerettes could get another couple of hits from their best hitters, the margin quickly could shrink back to two – or less.

Instead, Boley induced a fly out to relatively-deep left-center field and then caught Miller and No. 3 batter Katie Hawkins looking at third strikes, stranding the runner who’d been at second with no outs and leaving CHS within six outs of victory with still a 5-runs margin.

Wisely, Chillicothe’s batters continued to press the attack.

A leadoff walk to Pithan, an error, and Luetticke’s bunt single got that run back in the sixth. Hibner and Dunn singles to start the top of the seventh and Brooke Horton’s groundout to the first baseman on which Hibner alertly scored after the fielder flipped the ball to the second baseman covering first put the Lady Hornets’ runs total in double figures.

Boley closed the game with a fitting flourish, shrugging off a leadoff single in the bottom half to get a strikeout, a fly ball to center, and her 16th whiff of the game, catching Miller looking a second time in a row as the Tigerettes standout – a key figure in MHS’ state-tournament victory over Chillicothe in basketball last February – went down on strikes for the third time in the game.

Statistically, while ringing up the 16 Tigerettes, Boley (11-2) did not walk any. Of the 104 total pitches she delivered, 84 were either called or swinging strikes or put in play. She started 23 of the 29 batters who stepped in against her with strikes, according to the CHS scorebook.

Offensively, Dunn, Hibner, Boley, and Luetticke all had multi-hits games and Helton had a team-best three runs batted in. In contrast to Macon, only three Chillicothe batters struck out.

Chillicothe also committed only one error, and that was a borderline call that could have been scored a hit. Macon, according to the CHS scorekeeper, was guilty of two errors, but had several other unmade plays that could have been considered miscues.

Boley’s third-inning RBI double gave her 35 for the season, pushing the sophomore past former record-holder and CHS all-time great Sarah Baldwin’s 34. Boley had matched the mark during Tuesday’s quarterfinal win over St. Joseph: Benton.

As a result of Thursday’s offensive performances, the first five batters in the Lady Hornets’ Saturday lineup (barring illness, injury, or quarantine) will carry batting averages of .414 or higher into the district-title game and the team will go in with a composite average of .408. Only one member of the lineup is hitting under .300.