Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Softball Lady Hornets Win Key League Clash

Executing well in all phases, defending MEC champs top Savannah 3-0 Thursday

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Simultaneously demonstrating the area's need for rain, Chillicothe (Mo.) HS softball Lady Hornets senior star Sophia Luetticke creates a billow of dust as she slides safely into second base with a steal in the fifth inning of Thursday's home game against Savannah. The theft made it possible for Luetticke to score a short time later on Kinlei Boley's 2-outs single, pushing CHS in front 2-0. The Lady Hornets took command of the 2021 Midland Empire Conference race with their 3-0 triumph.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Chillicothe High School’s softball Lady Hornets cleared a major obstacle out of their potential path to a second-straight Midland Empire Conference championship at home Tuesday with a dandy 3-0 decision over 2020 Class 3 state runnerup Savannah.

With the visiting Lady Savages having back about half of last year’s lineup that edged CHS 5-4 in the district tournament finals, but with a different pitcher, the Lady Hornets won for a season-high sixth time in a row, netting single runs in the third, fifth and sixth innings.

Junior ace pitcher Kinlei Boley and solid defense made that output stand up for Chillicothe’s third MEC victory without a loss this fall. It and St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond, which will visit Chillicothe on Oct. 4, now are the only loss-less clubs in league play. BLHS has yet to face any of the expected upper-division team in the loop, although it will meet St. Joseph: Benton Saturday.

"Savannah’s pitcher did a nice job of keeping us off balance and not giving up many solid hits," commented Lee Rucker, CHS head coach..

"Our girls did a good job of manufacturing runs with bunts and aggressive baserunning. Good teams find ways to win and tonight we found a way. I’m proud of the team for that."

Chillicothe is idle until Monday when it calls on non-conference foe Lexington. On Tuesday, the diamond Lady Hornets will travel to league adversary Maryville before hosting Benton next Thursday, Sept. 23.

As Thursday’s highly-anticipated clash at Daryl Danner Memorial Park’s red field began with a big crowd on hand and more arriving as the game unfolded, Boley successfully met a major challenge in the first half-inning, escaping a first-and-third, 1-out situation with consecutive strikeouts.

Junior pitcher Kinlei Boley of the 2021 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS softball Lady Hornets delivers an early-innings pitch during the team's 3-0 home victory over Savannah Thursday, Sept. 16. The CHS win on Boley's third shutout of the season puts it in the driver's seat in the Midland Empire Conference title race, where it is the defending champion.

Counterpart Emma Newton proved equally uncooperative in surrendering the 0-0 deadlock, staring down prime CHS scoring chances in each of the first two frames.

In the first, the hosts had speedy Sophia Luetticke at second with no outs after a bunt single and steal, but she went no further. In the second, singles by Kirsten Dunn and Bre Pithan perched Lady Hornets on third and second, but a strikeout and line drive caught down the right-field line left them aboard.

Savannah’s defense blinked, though, in the bottom of the third to put the first run on the scoreboard, the only one CHS needed, it turned out.

Luetticke’s flip hit to shallow left was followed by Hope Helton having a high pitch glance harmlessly off her helmet for a 2-on, 0-out opportunity.

After an infield popup, cleanup batter Mika Hibner blooped a ball toward the second baseman which caused Helton to hold up off of first for a moment or two, but which Luetticke had a more-favorable angle on to realize the ball would land uncaught. 

As the lead runner headed to third, the SHS second baseman fielded the ball  about halfway between first and second and watched as Helton belatedly came toward her. That delay meant reduced time to try to tag her and still throw out Hibner at first. In her anxiety after applying the tag, she threw high and past the first baseman, allowing Luetticke to score without a play.

The guests came very close to getting the equalizer in their next half-inning, but the Chillicothe defense, after a momentary wobble, had the antidote.

A leadoff single up the middle and 1-out walk were followed by Kaylence Cook’s hit into center. Luetticke charged quickly, but had the ball drop out of her glove as she tried to come up and throw toward home, where the lead runner likely would not have been sent on a clean pickup.

When, however, the ball bounced away, although only a foot or two, the Savannah coach signaled his runner to continue home, Luetticke quickly recovered the ball and fired toward home, although not with much momentum. Seeing the throw coming in low and a bit slow, Boley speared it just at the front edge of the pitcher’s circle, spun, and zinged a quick throw to catcher Helton for the tag on the runner just shy of the dish.

The Savannah fifth provided more tense moments with the left-handed-throwing Luetticke racing into left-center (her glove-hand side) to reach out and rob the first batter of at least a double.

That became huge when a 2-outs drive to deep left-center fell in for a double and the next batter walked. Facing senior catcher Taijha Davis, who already had a pair of singles, Boley terminated the threat with a 4-pitches strikeout, preserving the shutout and 1-0 lead.

She then delivered a 2-outs hit in the bottom of the fifth to double the CHS cushion.

With one out, the lefty-batting Luetticke deadened a bunt toward the third baseman for an easy hit – her seventh in a row – and stole second. After Helton lined out to shortstop, Boley blooped a ball into shallow right-center, easily plating the runner from second.

After a quiet top of the sixth, another booster shot added to the health of the home team’s lead.

Dunn drew a leadoff walk, then got a big jump off first on Halle Rucker’s excellently-paced bunt back toward the pitcher. With Dunn racing around second, the third baseman’s throw to the second baseman covering first was just high enough that it necessitated a slight jump to snare. By the time the fielder came down with her foot on the base for the out, enough extra milliseconds had elapsed that Dunn’s sprint toward third got her into the base with a slide just before the pitcher caught the shoulder-high throw across the diamond and got a tag down.

That extra base became an extra run, then, when Bre Pithan lifted a fly ball down the right-field line which the outfielder opted to catch a few feet into foul territory while going laterally. Without having any momentum going toward home plate, her throw to try to get Dunn there arrived took late and CHS had a 3-0 margin.

Another 1-2-3 inning from Boley in the seventh closed out Chillicothe’s victory after a predictably-snappy 1:35.

Statistically, Boley and Luetticke were dominant and contributed clutch plays in multiple phases.

Boley (11-3) threw her third complete-game shutout of 2021, all against quality teams (Kirksville twice, Savannah), surrendering five hits, but buckling down in the tight spots and helping herself with the alert fourth-inning relay and the RBI hit in the fifth.

She fanned 10 and walked two, throwing first-pitch strikes to two-thirds of the batters and firing called or swinging strikes or having the ball put in play 71 times in 97 offerings.

Luetticke’s second-consecutive perfect day at the dish – three for three – led to scoring two of the three CHS runs, while her quick recovery and throw toward home in the fourth and hit-robbing catch to begin the fifth kept SHS off the scoreboard.

With seven hits in a row, her batting average rose to just under .650. A year ago, she set the team record with an average of .568.