Rampaging CHS softball squad overwhelmingly takes own tourney's tItle
Record 22 runs, 26 hits in third-game win over Savannah; season runs record blown past; Helton drives in 10 on day, breaks Boley's season RBI mark
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
Highlighted by an inevitable surpassing of the program’s all-time record for runs in a season, junior Hope Helton’s under-the-radar erasure of the season mark for runs batted in, and a stunning, thundering, team-record 22-runs, 26-hits onslaught in their championship-pool semifinals rout of fellow Midland Empire Conference member Savannah, if there were such a thing as a “disabled list” or “injured list” in high school softball, the Chillicothe’s Lady Hornets’ stampede to the title of their own tournament likely would have sent the scoreboard operator to it with “carpal tunnel syndrome” (repetitive motion injury) last Saturday.
After – not unexpectedly – preliminary-round “pool” victories of 14-8 over Princeton and 8-3 over Oak Grove moved them past the previous record (206) by three, the hosts shockingly detonated – in only five innings – its batting bomb on Savannah and followed that with a similarly-unforeseen 15-1, 4-innings blowout of Macon.
Chillicothe had split two games apiece against Savannah and Macon last year and narrowly defeated Savannah 3-0 only about a week earlier.
The mind-boggling, senses-rattling 59 runs in four games in a mere 19 innings left the 2021 Lady Hornets with 246 runs scored to date with still at least eight more games – and likely more – yet to play.
Of Saturday’s nearly five-dozen runs scored, 10 were driven in by catcher and No. 2 batter Helton, who quietly has turned into a run-producing monster.
She entered the action having 28 RBI and exited it with two more than the record-breaking number teammate Kinlei Boley, who follows her in the batting order, put up a year ago.
The quartet of conquests simultaneously made Chillicothe champion of its “annual” tournament which was held for the first time since 2018 (2019 tourney was rained out and 2020’s canceled as a consequence of COVID-19 pandemic concerns), a winner in 13-consecutive games, and owner of 21 victories in ’21. With the number of remaining scheduled games, it seems a near-certainty this year’s team will break – and perhaps obliterate – the CHS program’s current standard for victories in a season. The 2010 Lady Hornets finished 25-5, their historic season which seemed destined to produce their first trip to the state semifinals and finals plunging over an emotional cliff short of that on a walk-off home run by Boonville in extra innings in the state quarterfinals. The next year’s team finally made it to the state semis and finals, placing second to Centralia while registering a 24-4 mark.
If this year’s team continues its current pace, barring rainouts, it would equal the 2010 team’s total Monday, Oct. 4, at home against St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond and have a chance to break it the next day against Putnam County in the regular-season home finale.
Chillicothe was to visit Hamilton Monday at 4:30 p.m. and host Kansas City: St. Pius X Tuesday. Wins in those outings would tie the program record for most consecutive victories (15), set in 2008. The OCt. 4 Bishop LeBlond game also could offer an opportunity to break that mark.
Given all that, head coach Lee Rucker says, without needing to embellih verbally, "This is a special group."
In unwrapping Chillicothe’s momentous performance in its tournament, which followed similar dominance to claiming the title in the Putnam County Invitational two weekends before, the opening phrase of the theme song from the early 1970s tearjerker movie “Love Story” clearly applies:
“Where do I begin to tell the story… “
How about starting with the ending and working backward?
Having qualified – as projected – for the 9-teams tourney’s 3-squads championship “pool,” the Lady Hornets took the “red” (southwest) field of Daryl Danner Memorial Park for the last time in the afternoon and evening against a Macon Tigerettes team which could slip away with the tourney crown by defeating CHS by any margin, even though MHS had just lost its tussle with Savannah 5-3.
Under the tourney’s tiebreaker procedure, for all practical purposes, any Macon win over CHS would make it the champ via the “fewest runs allowed” criterion, since both the Lady Hornets and Tigerettes had surrendered five against Cameron, while Cameron’s Lady Dragons were finished with a total of 25 runs yielded.
Swinging the bat first after presumably losing the pre-game coin flip to determine the “home” team for a fourth time in a row, Chillicothe again used that status to immediately seize a lead it never relinquished.
Not only was that unsurprising, but on this day de rigueur as the Lady Hornets scored at least one run in each of the 19 innings it played in the tourney.
In this game’s case, it was a 3-spot CHS put on the board against Macon’s second-string pitcher before taking the field defensively.
Sophia Luetticke led off by drawing a walk and went around the bases on three wild pitches to make it 1-0. After Helton reached on an error, moved to second on another wild pitch, and took third on a passed ball, Boley waited out another walk.
The inning threatened to be short-circuited when, after stealing second, an interference call on the courtesy runner for pitcher Boley for bumping into the shortstop as she fielded Mika Hibner’s bouncer forced Helton to return to third base while the offending runner was called out. Hibner was placed at first base.
A sacrifice fly by Kirsten Dunn then put the second run back on the scoreboard before senior third baseman Halle Rucker – who got the winning pitching decision for each of the day’s first three CHS triumphs – delivered a big 2-outs RBI single on the ground into left field.
With junior righthander and pitching ace Boley very fresh with only four innings thrown previously on the day, that figured to be a number tough for Macon to overcome. In fact, it proved more than the Tigerettes could counter.
Having retired all 12 batters she’d faced in her two brief prior appearances of the day, Boley made it 13-straight set down before issuing a 1-out walk in the bottom of the first. A routine fly out to right fielder Jolie Bonderer and a strikeout stranded the Macon runner at second.
Chillicothe then batted around in the second, helped by a second MHS error and featuring 2-outs run-scoring singles by Dunn and Bre Pithan, to boost its margin to 7-0. Surprisingly, Macon’s coach inserted her team’s best pitcher, junior Brooke Weimer, into the action late in the inning to get the third out. She then began the third, surrendered several hits and runs, was removed, and then, after her successor could not throw strikes, was returned to the circle for the final 1-2/3 innings.
Up by seven as the Lady Hornets came to bat a third time, they essentially removed any doubt over the game’s ultimate result when they used Helton’s run-scoring double that moved her past Boley’s season RBI pinnacle, four consecutive walks, and a bases-full, 2-outs hit batter to put another four markers on the board.
Following a 2-outs RBI double to right-center by Macon star shortstop Lexi Miller with two outs in the bottom of the third, Chillicothe closed out the game’s scoring by batting around and plating four runs for a third inning in a row. The second of those runs scored on Boley’s second home run of the tournament and team-high fourth of the season, a solo shot over the center field fence.
With the 90-minutes time limit for the game having expired during the inning, when Macon was retired in order by Boley in the bottom half, the game and tournament was over with CHS having captured the title for a sixth time in the tournament’s 22-years history.
Chillicothe was expected to be taxed in its rematch with Savannah, but the CHS hitting parade eliminated any semblance of drama or uncertainty from the eventual result by the third inning and ultimately produced dual record-breaking team performances.
Batting – as the visitors – in every inning despite their wide lead after four, the Lady Hornets used that extra opportunity to accumulate six more hits and six more runs, allowing them to surpass the program’s previous 21-runs and 21-hits standards for a game. The former mark had been set all the way back in 2000 in a game against Cameron, while the latter had been first reached in 2014 and tied earlier this season. The record-breaking run was scored by Dunn and the 22nd hit came off Bonderer’s bat.
With most of the hits clean and sharply-struck, Chillicothe accrued at least three hits in every frame and had close to half of them in the last two innings after Savannah removed its No. 1 pitcher. All nine CHS starters had multi-hits games and each of the top six in the lineup drove in at least three runs.
Boley had a 4-hits game, including a 2-runs homer in the fourth, and four RBI. She finished a triple shy of a “cycle” (single, double, triple, home run in the same game).
Hadley Beemer, Mika Hibner, Bonderer, Dunn, Luetticke and Helton stroked three hits apiece and H. Rucker and Pithan a pair each.
The Lady Hornets scored multiple runs in each of the five innings, as well, beginning with a 2-runs first that began with 3-straight infield hits in front of Hibner’s ringing double to left-center. Had the Lady Hornets not lost a runner on the bases in that half-inning, it might have been much bigger, although that soon became a moot point.
Assisted by some Savannah fielding slipups and misjudgments, CHS posted two runs in the first inning, three in the second, and six in the third to rapidly position itself for a runs-rule-shortened outing.
At that juncture, without Savannah yet having put a runner on base against starting hurler Boley, coach Rucker swapped her with third baseman/top alternate hurler H. Rucker, who picked up credit for another relief win by throwing the third and fourth. Sophomore Beemer tossed the final frame.
What turned out to be Chillicothe’s closest and tamest game was its victory over Oak Grove.
While CHS scored in each of the six innings played and built a 5-0 lead before OGHS got on the board in the third, the Lady Hornets never placed more than two runs in any segment, despite collecting 14 hits – more than a third of them for extra bases.
Helton’s RBI double following Luetticke’s game-starting infield single set the immediate tone. Helton singled again in the second and swatted a solo home run in the fourth in a 3-for-4 effort that included three runs driven in. Luetticke also had three hits.
After Boley threw two perfect innings to start, H. Rucker earned the win with four innings of relief.
In their day’s opening contest at 8:30 a.m., the Lady Hornets put Princeton in an 8-0 pit before giving the Lady Tigers their first chance to bat and led 14-3 after 4-1/2 innings.
Consistent with their nearly-season-long trend, the CHS girls got offense from all portions of their batting order.
While senior cleanup batter Hibner roped her second home run of the season with two runners abord in the first to commence the scoring and finished with two hits and No. 2 batter Helton went three for four with two runs driven in, it was No. 7 batter Pithan, a junior like Helton, and No. 9 batter Bonderer, a sophomore, who had the Lady Hornets’ best games with a bat.
Right fielder Bonderer put together a symmetrically-perfect batting line with three hits in three at-bats, three runs scored, and three driven in.
Second baseman Pithan also was three for three, but scored “only” twice and drove home “only” two.
Chillicothe came within one of the then-team record for hits in a game in that one, ripping 20, rendering meaningless its five errors. Five of the CHS hits were for extra bases.Rucker started and threw the first three innings of the 4-innings game to net personal win No. 6 in seven decisions. Beemer was charged with five runs, but only one was earned, in the last half-inning.