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Short distances apart, vastly-disparate diamond experiences for Hamilton, Braymer Saturday

Caldwell County schools, separated by about only 15 miles, split Saturday state-semifinal softball games on home fields. Hamilton: Penney will face Columbia school for crown Thursday at Springfield

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
The index and middle fingers of her left (pitching) hand visibly swollen, Hamilton (Mo.): Penney HS softball Lady Hornets pitcher Julia Kanoy fires a low pitch to a Monroe City batter in the first inning of Saturday's (Oct. 24, 2020) Class 2 state tournament semifinal game at Hamilton. Her fingers having been pinched between the ball and bat when she fouled off a pitch in the top half of the inning, Kanoy had trouble gripping the ball and finding a release point that would get the ball close to home play on the first two Monroe City batters she faced, walking them on eight total pitches. However, she hung tough, figured out a grip that would let her get the ball over home plate, and came back to throw a scoreless first frame and eventually a complete-game win as Hamilton advanced to next Thursday's (Oct. 29) state-championship game at Springfield with a 10-3 triumph.
  • Hamilton received four hits each from Huff-Hockaday, Brown, homers from Allen, Huff-Hockaday
  • Braymer/Breckenridge missed its best scoring chances in fourth, fifth innings
  • Hamilton: Penney (18-8) will face Columbia: Fr. Tolton Regional (23-3) for Class 2 state crown
  • Class 2 girls' HS softball state championship game to be Thursday, Oct. 29, at 5 p.m. at Springfield
Braymer/Breckenridge Lady ‘Cats sophomore catcher Raylee Hawkins sacrifices her body to lunge to her left and tag out La Plata pinch runner Audrey Belfield for the final out of the top of the seventh inning, preserving a scoreless tie in last Saturday’s Class 1 softball state-tournament semifinal game at Braymer. The runner was attempting to score from second base on a single, but was cut down by the throw from freshman center fielder Lexi O’Dell.

While their towns are only about 15 statute miles apart within Caldwell County’s boundaries, the emotions and experiences of the players, coaches, and fans of Hamilton’s Penney High School Lady Hornets and Braymer/Breckenridge’s Lady ’Cats softball teams could hardly have been farther to each spectrum last Saturday afternoon.

With a first-ever trip to a state-championship game at stake for each other as they played on their home diamonds in very chilly conditions, Hamilton, after an early scare, tasted the sweet fruits of victory by a dominant 10-3 count over Monroe City in the Class 2 semifinals, but Braymer/Breckenridge came away heartbroken after a 9-innings, 1-0 defeat at the hands of La Plata in its Class 1 semifinal.

While Braymer/Breckenridge’s season concluded with a 15-10 record, Penney High’s squad (18-8) heads on to tomorrow’s state title game against Columbia: Father Tolton Regional (23-3). That clash will take place at Springfield’s Killian Softball Complex Thursday at 5 p.m.

Members of the 2020 Hamilton (Mo.): Penney HS softball Lady Hornets joyously celebrate with each other on their home field Saturday (Oct. 24) after completing a 10-3 victory over Monroe City which qualifies the Lady Hornets for next Thursday's Class 2 state tournament championship game against Columbia: Father Tolton Regional. The title game – the first ever for Hamilton's program – will be played at Springfield.

Hamilton 10, Monroe City 3

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

HAMILTON — A first-inning foul ball threatened to foul up senior ace pitcher Julia Kanoy’s and her Hamilton: Penney softball Lady Hornets teammates’ plans for playing for the Class 2 state championship at Springfield next week.

However, Kanoy’s grit and a hefty dose of offense made everything work out great.

Having seized a quick lead on senior left fielder MaryJane Brown’s 2-outs, opposite-field single in the top of the first inning, Hamilton never trailed, sailing past visiting Monroe City 10-3 in their state-semifinals clash to earn a crack at the school’s first-ever softball state crown.

The Penney High club will clash with Columbia: Father Tolton Regional at Springfield’s Killian Softball Complex to decide the Class 2 championship Thursday at 5 p.m.

While the host Lady Hornets efficiently kept adding on to the 2-0 lead Brown’s hit provided – they plated runs in six of the seven frames, the contest’s trajectory was formed and solidified in the opening inning.

Initially, it looked like Monroe City was going to make the big plays, but that proved to be a mirage.

After MCHS center fielder Carly Young reached over the center field fence to rob Madison Allen of a 1-out home run in the first half-inning, Hayleigh Huff-Hockaday grounded a hit through the hole into left field, bringing cleanup hitter Kanoy to the dish.

Although virtually no one realized it, when the lefthanded hitter and thrower took a cut at a Riley Quinn pitch during her at-bat that ended in a base on balls, the contact which officially registered as a foul ball actually came between the ball and one of the fingers on her pitching hand.

Once she joined Huff-Hockaday on base and they advanced a base each on a wild pitch, the righthanded-hitting Brown spanked a sharp ground ball to the right of the Monroe City first baseman and cleanly into right field. As the runner from third scored easily, Kanoy predictably was waved around from second by head/third-base coach Jim Dickey and scored without a play as the right fielder missed connections trying to quickly glove the ball in time to fire home. Although that miscue let Brown continue on to second, she was stranded, but Hamilton fans were thrilled that Kanoy would head to the pitching circle with a 2-runs lead to protect.

However, she began making her warm-up pitches and one, two, three in a row skidded wildly out of her left hand into the dirt only about 40 feet toward home plate and well wide of it, those thrills turned to chills.

After yet another delivery followed more or less the same course, Dickey emerged from the first-base dugout, meeting his hurler at the first-base line for a discussion as both looked at her throbbing and swelling digit.

The talk of about 30-45 seconds ended with the hurler striding back to the pitching rubber and making one final, failed attempt to approximate a pitch near home plate. Out of warmup tosses, it was up to Kanoy to find a way to adjust or see her team’s and her hopes evaporate.

With almost none of the fans or media aware of what the cause of her wildness was, they watched, stunned, as eight consecutive pitches were directed toward home plate, but none crossed the dish. However, during that stretch, the lefty’s offerings began gaining altitude and attitude, moving closer and closer to the strike zone.

Having walked the first two Lady Panthers and, with a pair of stolen bases and a wild pitch, seen them perched in scoring position, Kanoy and Hamilton were one hittable pitch or several unhittable ones outside the strike zone from seeing that 2-runs lead vanish just as quickly as it appeared, but the veteran hurler was unrelenting.

“I knew she wouldn’t quit,” Dickey told the C-T after the game, referencing his pitcher’s competitive nature while indicating Kanoy’s injured finger had swelled significantly and stayed that way. “I just didn’t know if she’d ever be able to throw strikes.”

Whether able to block the pain or making an adjustment in her grip on the ball and the tempo of her delivery to get the ball all the way home, Kanoy was able to get her counterpart Quinn to pop up to second baseman Brighton Swindler in front of second base for the first out as the runners stayed where they were.

Facing Monroe City cleanup batter Bailee Hays, who reportedly had hit the tiebreaking home run in the Lady Panthers’ surprise quarterfinal victory at Marceline on Wednesday, the Hamilton hurler grew more confident of her adjustments and caught Hays looking at a third strike.

Now within an out of not only preserving the lead, but blanking the opponent, Kanoy got Emily Freidank, who bashed two drives over the fence against Marceline, to hit a grounder to Allen at shortstop. With an on-target throw, Kanoy and the Lady Hornets had blunted the budding MCHS rally without any damage. Monroe City would never recover.

For the first of two times in the game, Hamilton capitalized on an inning-opening throwing error by a Lady Panthers infielder to tack on a tally in the top of the third.

With the speedy Swindler set to make it a close play at first, the low throw eased out of the first sacker’s leather and Hamilton had its leadoff batter on for the first time. She stole second and then third and, while Huff-Hockaday batted with one down, slid home safely on a passed ball. As it turned out, Huff-Hockaday would have singled her in anyway, but the self-manufactured “speed” run helped add momentum to the Lady Hornets’ cause.

The bottom of the third saw a pair of MCHS infield hits on dribblers become runs as Hays singled in a run with one out and Freidank grounded out to third as the second run scored. When Kanoy then left Hays at second with her third strikeout of the game, the Lady Hornets again had forced Monroe City to leave the potential tying run at second. That would turn out to be its last such chance to pull even.

Another low throw on an inning-opening grounder – this time off the bat of Anisten Houghton – offered Hamilton another unearned chance to tack on and it did that – and more.

A walk to Lakelyn Shatto and a wild pitch had runners at second and third with one out before Quinn tried to wiggle off the hook. She struck out Swindler looking, but the righty-swinging Allen sent a hard-hit, slicing drive far down the right-field line. The lefthanded-throwing MCHS right fielder ranged well over toward the line, but – reaching across her body on the run to try to spear the liner just below knee level – the ball went off her glove and on to the fence in foul ground. While the baserunners trotted home, Allen zipped all the way to third with a 2-runs triple.

As Huff-Hockaday batted, a wild pitch let Allen stride home without a play and, midway through the contest, Hamilton: Penney now owned a 6-2 lead.

That proved to be more than enough as Kanoy, now in a groove despite the sore finger, blanked Monroe City in the bottom of the fourth, fifth, and sixth frames. By the time she surrendered a sacrifice fly for the first out of the seventh, single Lady Hornets tallies in the fifth and sixth – the former on Shatto’s suicide-squeeze bunt single and the latter on Huff-Hockaday’s fourth-straight hit, a solo shot over the left-center field fence – and Allen’s 2-runs roundtripper to right-center in the top of the seventh had put the game out of the Lady Panthers’ reach.

With one out to go to secure the trip to Springfield, Hamilton fans saw a line drive off Freidank’s bat carry right to Brown in left, setting off the predictably-joyous on-field celebration for the host team.

Powered by the heart of its batting order, Hamilton ripped 15 hits on the day. While No. 3 hitter Huff-Hockaday was finishing four for five – she lined out to third in her last at-bat, Brown in the No. 5 spot was going four for four, including the huge 2-outs, 2-RBI hit in the first inning. Just ahead of Huff-Hockaday, Allen shrugged off being robbed of her would-be homer in the first to go three for five with four runs batted in on her 2-runs triple and final-frame long ball.

While the heart of the order made the loudest noises, the Lady Hornets had contributions throughout the lineup. Eight of the nine players in it scored.

Despite Kanoy’s impairment, Monroe City reached her for only six hits – half of them infield hits. After walking the first two batters she faced while first dealing with her injury, the Hamilton hurler gave out only three more free passes the rest of the way.

Freshman pitcher Emma Hall of the Braymer/Breckenridge Lady ’Cats fires a pitch to a La Plata batter during last Saturday's Missouri Class 1 high school softball state-tournament semifinal game at Braymer. Hall and La Plata's Olivia Coy matched zeroes for eight innings before La Plata won 1-0 in nine.

La Plata 1, Braymer/Breckenridge 0 (9 inn.)

BRAYMER — After eight tense innings of waiting for someone, anyone to touch home plate, La Plata got a 2-outs singles in top of ninth to produce the game’s only run.

After freshman leadoff batter Claire Coy’s single to right field plated Trista Smith, who had singled with one out and advanced on a wild pitch, Braymer/Breckenridge freshman hurler Emma Hall got a groundout to second baseman Kennedy Stone to keep the score at 1-0.

That gave the Lady ’Cats, held to only two hits through eight innings by La Plata junior pitcher Olivia Coy, a chance to either pull out a miracle win or at least extend the action to a 10th inning by scoring in the bottom of the ninth.

When senior third baseman and cleanup batter Dallas Hall led off the last-chance at-bat with a single to right on a 0-2 pitch, the home team had its chance. However, having come that far in denying Braymer/Breckenridge, O. Coy would brook no such nonsense.

Continuing to perpetually pound the strike zone, she fanned the next batter on three pitches, got a tap to second on a 0-1 pitch as Hall did advance to scoring position, and finished her complete-game, 3-hits shutout with a 4-pitches whiff, her 19th of the game.

While Braymer/Breckenridge never scored, twice in the first five innings it had the game’s potential first run perched at third base, only to strand them.

In the bottom of the first, leadoff batter Hallie Russell coaxed a walk, moved to second on a tap back to the pitcher, and got to third while the next batter was striking out. However, a popup left her there.

In the home fifth, freshman Lexi O’Dell also drew a leadoff free pass on six pitches. A passed ball moved her up a base and, after E. Hall was hit with a 0-2 pitch with one out, another passed ball sent O’Dell and courtesy runner Addyson Sweem to third and second, respectively, with only one out. However, the La Plata hurler didn’t blink, getting a swinging third strike for the second out and a caught-looking strikeout to end the threat.

La Plata also missed scoring opportunities in the first eight innings. It left a girl at third in the first inning, too, as well as another in the third. In the sixth, with two on and two out, E. Hall got a swing and miss at a 2-2 pitch to leave them aboard.

With the game 0-0 entering the seventh, the visitors made their best bid yet to break the deadlock.

Consecutive 1-out singles had runners at first and second when E. Hall notched her seventh strikeout for the second out, bringing around the top of the order in C. Coy. The LHS batter laced a 1-1 delivery into center field for a single, but a charging L. O’Dell gloved it on the bounce and came up firing toward home plate. The peg beat the La Plata runner coming around from second and catcher Raylee Hawkins gloved it and got the tag down in time for the out which sent the home fans into a frenzy.

That excitement level rose a notch when freshman No. 7 batter Karissa Rogers legged out a grounder to third opening the bottom half of the seventh. With the potential winning run aboard, Lady ’Cats coach Angie Stone gambled following a strikeout, sending Rogers on a steal attempt. However, La Plata’s defense was up to the task, cutting her down. Despite a subsequent walk, Braymer/Breckenridge’s goose egg on the scoreboard and the game went to extra innings.

La Plata, which tagged a likely-tiring E. Hall for seven of its nine total hits in the last three innings, threatened in the eighth with a 1-out single and follow-up walk. The Lady ’Cats frosh measured up, however, retiring the next two batters on fly balls while keeping the runners in place.

In the ninth, though, the Kirksville-area team finally got the clutch, 2-outs hit each side had been seeking.

Statistically, Dallas Hall delivered two of the four Braymer/Breckenridge hits, including the contest’s only extra-base hit – a  fourth-inning, 1-out double. Hallie Russell and Rogers had the other hits. E. Hall rang up nine opponents on strikes while walking three and hitting one.