Softball Lady Hornets start 2021 season strong in KC-area tourney
Win three of five against challenging field; home debut against tough Kirksville Monday
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A very gratifying and productive in multiple aspects showing in a Kansas City-area tournament Friday and Saturday will serve as a springboard into Monday’s likely-dandy home opener for the 2021 Chillicothe High School softball Lady Hornets.
The veterans-packed CHS squad, which will welcome what again should be a very good Kirksville team to Daryl Danner Memorial Park’s “red” field at 4:30 p.m. Monday, commenced its season by winning three of its five games in the Greater Kansas City Suburban Tournament. The event was hosted in Independence's Adair Park by William Chrisman High School.
After splitting two games in its “pool” Friday, Chillicothe on Saturday claimed second place in the “silver” bracket comprised of the second-place “pool” teams from the 24-teams tourney’s eight Friday “pools.”
The Lady Hornets smacked Odessa 13-6 to start its bracket action Saturday morning and immediately backed that up with an 8-0 verdict over Centralia. After a few hours’ wait, in the mid-afternoon heat of another blistering day, head coach Lee Rucker’s group seized a 4-3 lead over Holden in the third inning of the bracket’s “title” game, only to have Holden answer with five runs in the top of the fourth and go on to win 11-4.
“Today we really started to hit the ball more consistently, which is something we take a lot of pride in,” coach Rucker reported that evening.
Monday’s home-opener foe edged Chillicothe 5-4 at Kirksville in the 2020 season opener, one of four losses in a row by CHS to begin its season before exploding to go 16-2 the rest of the way. Kirksville finished 16-3 a year ago, its season ending in district-tournament action in Chillicothe when it lost to eventual state Class 3 runnerup Savannah 3-0. Savannah then topped the Lady Hornets in the district-championship game.
Saturday’s trio of tussles for the Lady Hornets with its unexpectedly-decisive pair of morning victories.
As the home team, Chillicothe scored in each of the first four innings, including four times in the second and six in the fourth, to top Odessa in a contest terminated after five innings on the time limit.
Senior center fielder and leadoff batter Sophia Luetticke lit it up with three hits in four at-bats, four runs scored, two driven in, and a stolen base. She ended the tourney full of blue-ribbon opponents eight of 17 with seven runs scored.
The Odessa win also saw Hope Helton, Kinlei Boley and Mika Hibner – the others in the top four spots in the CHS lineup with two hits each, while Jolie Bonderer and Hibner joined Luetticke in knocking in a pair apiece. Dawsyn Lightner and Bre Pithan each scored twice.
The pitching was divvied up among starter/winner Boley, Halle Rucker, and youngster Hadley Beemer, who got some invaluable experience in appearing briefly in three of the contests. H. Rucker threw in every game and ace Boley in four.
Against Centralia, Chillicothe again scored in every inning of the game, although in 1- and 2-runs nibbles this time. Meanwhile Boley (four innings) and H. Rucker (two) shackled the Lady Panthers on three hits and one walk over six innings.
Junior Boley swung the big bat from the No. 3 slot, finishing three for four with three runs batted in. Both Kirsten Dunn and Luetticke were two for three with two runs scored, while H. Rucker earned a pair of RBI via run-scoring groundouts.
Half of the CHS hits were doubles, including a pair by Boley, who went seven for nine with three RBI and three runs scored Saturday.
In Saturday’s dog-day-afternoon heat, the Lady Hornets spotted Holden – which had bested former CHS softball scourge Platte County in its semifinal-round game – a 3-0 lead through 2-1/2 innings.
With a chance to win a fourth time in the tourney, CHS came to life with the bats the second time through the batting order and jumped in front.
With one down in the home third, Helton, Boley and Hibner stroked consecutive singles into center field, Hibner’s scoring Helton from second to put Chillicothe on the scoreboard.
A walk to Dunn loaded the bases and Pithan sent a hit to right-center, plating Boley from third, but Hibner was cut down trying to score from second for the second out. Dunn alertly took third and Pithan second as the play was made at the plate.
The trail runners’ advancement proved fortuitous for CHS when senior Lightner, serving as extra hitter, spanked an opposite-field single to right, sending both teammates home and giving the Lady Hornets a 4-3 lead.
The advantage quickly evaporated, however, as potent Holden got three 1-out hits in a row to knock H. Rucker out in the top of the fourth, leading to the 5-runs frame that boosted it into an 8-4 lead. While CHS did have three hits in the last three innings of the 6-innings contest, it could not score again, eventually falling by seven runs in a game which saw them stroke 11 hits, but allow 18.
Individually, Pithan, Hibner, Boley and Helton each had two hits with Lightner had the two RBI.
Overall in the high-caliber tournament, Chillicothe outscored its foes a composite 39-20, but also exhibited some early defensive misadventures it will want and need to clean up.
“We got in this tournament to see strong competition early in the season and prepare for our conference and district schedule down the road,” coach Rucker commented. “We got exactly what we wanted.
“The girls competed hard all weekend and got to spend a lot of time together, as well. We saw a lot of good things and identified some things to improve on as well.”
In addition to Luetticke’s big weekend, Boley had an even-better average, going eight for 14. She scored four runs and drove home three as she played some third base and some first when not pitching.
Last year, both Luetticke and Boley surpassed the previous team record for batting average in a season, the former setting a new mark of .568 and latter finishing at .554. Boley had a team-high on-base rate of .607 and a CHS-best on-base-plus-slugging rate of 1.418, walloping 13 extra-base hits, including three home runs. Luetticke had four extra-base hits during the tournament and Boley three.