Chillicothe HS softball Lady Hornets drop Greater Kansas City Suburban tournament opener Friday morning

Will play Grain Valley at 9 a.m. at Independence's Adair Park, Pleasant Hill at 2:15. Three more CHS games Saturday

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
The 2021 Chillicothe HS softball Lady Hornets will be looking to defend the Midland Empire Conference title won by the 2020 team, many members of which return this season.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Chillicothe (Mo.) High School’s 2021 fall sports season began Friday morning (Aug. 27) with the softball Lady Hornets starting pool-play action in the 2-days, 24-teams Greater Kansas City Suburban Invitational Tournament  at Independence’s Adair Park with a 7-1 loss to a very strong foe, Grain Valley.

The Chillicothe girls followed that Friday afternoon with a fast-starting 6-3 triumph over Pleasant Hill, 10-10 a year ago.

The CHS split, which came in spite of unexpectedly-meager hitting, put it in the “silver” bracket with other second-place teams for Saturday’s bracket play. Chillicothe will clash with Odessa at 8:30 a.m., followed immediately by contest against either St. Joseph: Lafayette or Centralia. The diamond Lady Hornets’ last game of the tourney is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

While Friday’s very hot weather prompted a change in the start time for that evening’s CHS football opener at Marshall, the softball Lady Hornets played prior to and then in the worst heat of the day in the tourney hosted by Independence’s William Chrisman High School.

Anticipated to have another very good season, CHS’ diamond girls finished second in the tourney’s “E” pool even though limited to only five total hits by a pair of top-drawer pitchers – “a senior … as good as anyone we’ll see this year” for GVHS and a 2020 All-Stater for P-Hill, Lee Rucker, Lady Hornets head coach shared.

Against Grain Valley, a 2020 Class 4 state tournament qualifier that went 25-5 last year, Chillicothe scored a first-inning run without a hit and maintained that 1-0 edge until the fifth, even though the Lady Hornets would get merely one hit – a 1-out single to left field in the seventh and final frame by junior shortstop Kirsten Dunn.

After CHS junior righthander Kinlei Boley forced Grain Valley to strand runners at the corners in the top of the first, senior center fielder Sophia Luetticke began the Lady Hornets’ half with a 5-pitches walk. She subsequently stole second and third bases, drawing an errant throw from the GVHS catcher on the theft of third to scoot home.

The larger school’s team finally wore Boley and the Lady Hornets’ defense down on its way to producing 10 hits and benefitting from a handful of CHS errors.

In the top of the fifth, a pair of run-scoring singles followed a leadoff double by Grain Valley’s No. 9 batter as Chillicothe slipped behind 3-1, setting Boley (0-1) up for the loss.

Grain Valley used consecutive errors to the first batters of the sixth and a third error of the frame a batter later to tack on two more runs against new reliever Halle Rucker before tagging her for four hits and another couple of markers in the seventh.

Dunn’s late hit prevented Chillicothe, which opened last year with four defeats before winning 16 of their last 18, from being no-hit in this season’s debut.

A few hours after dropping the 9 a.m. game against Grain Valley, the Lady Hornets exploited wildness by Pleasant Hill’s pitcher to put five runs on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning even though they produced only one hit – a leadoff single by Luetticke.

Although five CHS runs came across in the inning, the only run driven in belonged to H. Rucker when she accepted a bases-loaded walk that made it 2-zip. One run scored on a passed ball and the other three on wild pitchers.

That big inning proved to be enough for senior righty H. Rucker, who checked Pleasant Hill on one run over four innings. After Boley took over for a scoreless bottom of the fifth, sophomore Hadley Beemer replaced her with one out, an unearned run in, and two on in the sixth and final inning (due to the time limit). Beemer retired two of the three batters she faced, but did allow a single that scored a second unearned run charged to Boley.

Offensively, Luetticke was two for four in game two. She and Boley each doubled and H. Rucker had a single.

Chillicothe’s defense was better the second time around, making only one error.

Any Lady Hornets fans attending the tournament at Independence will need to bring a lawn chair or some other type of sitting/reclining option. Jackson County has eliminated all bleachers at outdoor parks facilities to promote social distancing in Kansas City.

In addition, while counterintuitive to the COVID-19-diminution steps regarding seating, due to the number of schools involved, the host school is encouraging families and fans to “car pool” as much as feasible, since parking spaces are limited to some degree.

“We came down here to see great competition and we got what we wanted,” second-year head coach Rucker observed.