CHS Softball Lady Hornets Shaded by Savannah 5-4 in District Final Thriller Saturday
After Chillicothe led twice on Boley, Hibner long balls and tied game in sixth of Horton's 2-outs RBI single, Savannah solo home run to top of seventh ended outstanding CHS bounce-back season 5-4
- Boley, Hibner each slugged third HRs of season, but Tipton blast in seventh won it for Savannah
- Both teams rallied to keep Class 3 District 8 championship game close Saturday
- Chillicothe finishes 2020 season 16-6 after being a game below .500 last year
- Strong wind with gusts to 30 mph buffeted action, but didn't prove decisive
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — A game that had a bit of almost everything – home runs, close plays, multiple comebacks, and very strong wind that was a factor – tipped the way of the Savannah Lady Savages with one swing of the bat today (Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020).
Tied with the host Chillicothe High School Lady Hornets 4-4 with one out in the top of the seventh inning of the Class 3 District 8 tournament championship game, last year’s third-place state finishers – their 2019 lineup fully intact this fall – received a line-drive, solo home run over the center field fence from third baseman Emma Tipton to seize their second lead.
When pitcher Kenzie Schopfer retired Chillicothe in order in the bottom half on three popups – one a great diving catch at the backstop by catcher Taijha Davis-Cogdill for the first out, Savannah (16-1) had avenged its 10-0 regular-season defeat by Chillicothe and earned the right to host next Wednesday’s state-tournament quarterfinal game by a 5-4 margin.
“We knew this would be a different type of game this time around,” Lee Rucker, Chillicothe head coach, commented.
“Both teams are really talented and traded punches the whole game. The fans at this game got to see some great softball today.”
Chillicothe, which finished last season a game under .500, was left to console itself with a tremendous turnaround season which saw it unseat Savannah as Midland Empire Conference champion with a perfect 7-0 run in league play en route to a final 16-6 record.
“I am incredibly proud of our girls for the way they competed today and all year long,” coach Rucker praised.
“When we lost the first four games of the season, they could have gotten discouraged, but instead they won 16 out of the next 18 games.”
Saturday’s title game saw both teams respond admirably to the challenging, very strong, south-southwest wind.
A constant presence that had the unfortunate potential to ultimately decide the outcome, the wind blowing from beyond left field toward right clearly and repeatedly affected play and impacted the contest, but, in the end, did not play a deciding role in which team won and which lost, as it easily could have.
The game’s outcome instead rested on the gallant and game efforts of players on both sides and easily could have tipped Chillicothe’s way.
The Lady Hornets led twice – 1-0 on Kinlei Boley’s 2-outs home run right into the teeth of the gale and over the left-field fence in the opening inning and 3-1 on Mika Hibner’s high-arcing, 2-runs launch to left-center in the bottom of the third during one of the moments when the wind had calmed for a brief time.
Then, after Savannah had rallied with three runs in the top of the sixth to gain its first lead, Brooke Horton’s 2-outs single to left field in the bottom half scored pinch-runner Jolie Bonderer from second base to tie the game at 4-4 and put the potential lead run at third, where it remained.
With both the wind and two different umpires’ calls playing roles, the contest got off to a quick start, in terms of action, excitement and suspense.
With Savannah runners at second and third base and one out in the opening half-inning, a sizzling line drive off the bat of Lady Savages cleanup batter Ella Bruner was speared on the backhand by CHS shortstop Kirsten Dunn. Her quick throw to third baseman Halle Rucker was ruled to have been barely in time to double off the runner at third, ending the inning and denying Savannah runs it seemed sure to score when Bruner made contact.
Not to be outdone in impactful, close-call drama, the bottom half of the first saw CHS leadoff batter Sophia Luetticke ruled out at first base on a bang-bang play after she tapped the ball back toward the pitcher.
That decision proved impactful when, two batters later, sophomore hurler Boley sneered at the gale coming toward her from left field and, after fouling off two 1-2 pitches, lined a Schopfer delivery low and hard toward deep left field with enough power for it to clear the waist-high fence 200 feet away for a home run. Her unanticipated roundtripper – given the opposing wind – was her third of the season and gave CHS a 1-0 lead that would have been 2-0 had the call on Luetticke gone the other way.
Following a scoreless second, Savannah tied the game and Chillicothe promptly untied it.
Consecutive 2-outs singles by Tipton and Bruner chased Brookelyn Graves around from first base to knot things at 1-1, but, in the home half of the frame, a drop of a windblown infield pop fly put Hope Helton aboard with one down and Hibner, also after fouling off a pair of 2-strikes deliveries, ripped her third home run of the season. The two unearned runs gave CHS another lead to try to protect.
It could not, however.
In the top of the fourth, a wind-pushed triple down the right-field line and a passed ball drew SHS within 3-2. In the next inning, a walk, a fielding error on a tough, short-hop chance, and Tipton’s hooking line drive that fooled the CHS left fielder for a game-tying, 1-out double put the teams right back where they started.
However, with runners at second and third and only one out, Bruner’s fly to center was deep enough to score the Lady Savages’ second run of the inning and give them their first edge, 4-3.
Chillicothe failed to counter in the bottom half, but Savannah was blanked for the first time since the second in the top of the sixth, giving the heart of the CHS lineup a crack at erasing the deficit.
When Boley walked leading off, the door edged open slightly and the Lady Hornets eventually capitalized behind their only two seniors.
With two outs and courtesy runner Bonderer still at first base, Mollie Ellis battled her way to a base on balls after an 8-pitches battle with Schopfer, an All-State choice as a hurler a year ago.
With the tying run now in scoring position, Brooke Horton, CHS’ leader in home runs with four this season, delivered the clutch, 2-outs hit needed. She lined a 1-1 pitch into left field, scoring Bonderer and letting Ellis scoot into third on the throw to the plate.
“We will miss our seniors … who both had great seasons,” coach Rucker said of Ellis’ and Horton’s contributions.
With a chance to regain the lead, sophomore second baseman Bre Pithan made a good bid to do so, sending a line drive toward the gap in right-center field. However, it seemed to hang up in the breeze a bit and the center fielder chased it down to make a running catch that kept the game tied going to the seventh, where Tipton settled the outcome.
“We want to the the community and the students for their support today and this whole week,” coach Rucker reflected on the tourney Chillicothe hosted for the first time in a number of years. “It was a great atmosphere.”
Statistically, considering the wind consistently was being measured at 12-20 miles an hour with repeated gusts up to 30, that the teams limited their errors to only three officially – two by CHS, was laudatory. A few other makeable plays went unmade by each side, but, by and large, the fielders held their own.
As evidenced by the three home runs hit, the batters didn’t let the wind “get in their heads” either. However, after tagging Schopfer for 11 hits, including long balls by Hibner, Horton, and Pithan in the mid-September game at Savannah, Chillicothe collected only three hits besides the two homers Saturday. No Lady Hornet had more than one hit.
The Lady Savages got eight off Boley (11-3), who fired first-pitch strikes to 29 of the 32 batters she faced and had only 26 of her 108 deliveries miss the strike zone or SHS bats.
Savannah, which left five runners aboard, had two hits each from three of the first four batters in its order, keeping the pressure on Boley each time the SHS lineup turned over. Joining heroine Tipton and Bruner in stroking two hits was leadoff girl Kaia Calloway.
Chillicothe was seeking its first district title and state-tourney appearance since 2016 and 10th in program history, all since 2003.