Boley's Perfect Pitching, Early RBI Puts Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Step Away From State Softball Tournament

Lady Hornets edge Savannah 1-0 in district semifinal. Will meet Kirksville for title at home Saturday (Oct. 16) at 1 p.m.

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Chillicothe (Mo.) HS softball Lady Hornets junior Kinlei Boley windmills into one of the 76 pitches – 57 of them strikes – she threw in delivering a 16-strikeouts perfect game in CHS' 1-0 victory over Savannah in the Class 3 District 8 Tournament semifinals in Chillicothe Thursday night, Oct. 14, 2021.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

With Savannah Lady Savages freshman right-handed pitcher Emma Newton tiptoeing around quicksand to keep the usually-potent Chillicothe High School softball Lady Hornets checked on a single first-inning run Thursday evening, CHS junior righty Kinlei Boley needed to be virtually perfect to keep her top-seeded team on track for a Class 3 District 8 crown and trip to state play.

This being the digital, “virtual” age, Boley simply highlighted “virtually” and deleted it – and the defending district champ and 2020 state runnerup.

In a stunningly-overwhelming pitching performance, Boley struck out the first 12 Savannah batters and finished with 16 Ks in firing her second perfect game in 11 days, making her first-inning RBI groundout stand up for a tense, yet thrilling, 1-0 district-semifinals victory at Chillicothe’s Daryl Danner Memorial Park.

“What a great game between two really good teams! Both teams were ready to play tonight,” reflected Lady Hornets head coach Lee Rucker, heaving a sigh of relief.

With their 1-run triumph following second-seeded Kirksville’s equally-precarious 2-1 verdict over No. 3 seed Macon earlier in the evening, the Lady Hornets (27-4) and Lady Tigers (22-5-1) will meet for a third time this season Saturday at 1 p.m. on Danner Park’s “red” field to decide which will move on to visit District 7 champion Holden in the state tournament quarterfinals next Wednesday evening. Holden shaded Pleasant Hill (a season-opening 6-3 victim of Chillicothe) 3-2 in the District 7 championship contest at Odessa Thursday.

CHS nipped Kirksville 1-0 at home on Aug. 30 in a tremendous pitchers’ duel between Boley and KHS senior righthander Sophie Stuart. The teams met again during the Putnam County Invitational tournament just over two weeks later and, with Stuart not being used as a pitcher, Boley again fired a shutout as Chillicothe romped 9-0 in a 5-innings content halted on a time limit.

Over the course of the 12 scoreless frames she has fired against the Lady Tigers, Boley has surrendered only five hits.

“It will be another great game with Kirksville on Saturday,” L. Rucker predicted.

In extending their single-season, program-record wins total Thursday, the Lady Hornets got a measure of revenge for last year’s heart-rending district-final loss to Savannah.

On that occasion, the Lady Savages – beaten 10-0 by CHS early in the season – rallied against Boley in the late innings to take a 5-4 lead and then held on to end Chillicothe’s season and propel Savannah on to, eventually, the state-championship game in which it lost to Sullivan, 2-1.

This time around, after whipping Savannah twice (3-0 and 22-5 in five innings) at Danner Park during the regular season, the Lady Hornets lived through the old sports axiom about the difficulty of defeating any decent opponent three times in a season and came out the other end intact.

Even with Boley’s pitching perfection, it wasn’t easy and no Chillicothe player, coach or fan breathed easy until senior first baseman Mika Hibner squeezed a foul popup just wide of the bag for the last out of the seventh inning.

Once Savannah finally figured out how to, at least, get the ball in play against the CHS 11th grader, Chillicothe fielders participated in five of the final nine out, the vast majority of them non-routine plays.

Beginning the fifth, a fly ball was lifted high into medium-shallow right-center field by SHS cleanup batter Payton Hirter. While it hung up plenty long enough for either center fielder Sophia Luetticke or right fielder Jolie Bonderer to get to and under even though they were playing deep to respect Hirter’s power, it also was almost perfectly placed between them, so that a collision or miscommunication on who would take priority in attempting the catch was a possibility as the ball descended.

Fortunately, senior Luetticke and sophomore Bonderer – perhaps with help from retreating second baseman Bre Pithan as traffic controller – verbally got on the same page as they hurried in and over with center fielder Luetticke properly taking charge in calling for the ball. Bonderer pulled up about 15 feet away as Luetticke safely tucked it in her leather while still on the run at a reduced velocity for the first out of the inning.

The following batter showed bunt a couple of times and soon found herself ahead on the count three balls and one strike. In a 1-run game, Boley could not afford to groove a juicy pitch just to try to keep her “perfecto” intact, lest it get launched over the fence 200 feet away to tie things.

In the tight spot, the Chillicothe junior didn’t flinch, firing first one pitch and then another past the bat of Kaydence Cook for strikeout No. 13 and out No. 2 of the inning.

Having seen Boley battle back from a 3-1 count to get the previous batter out, Lady Savages first baseman and No. 6 batter Haley Nolan stepped in ready to swing and pulled the first delivery on the ground a foot or so inside the third base line.

Stationed about 10 feet in front of the base and maybe three feet from the line, CHS senior third baseman Halle Rucker didn’t have much time to react to the hard-hit, but not scorched, bouncer off Nolan’s bat. Spinning to her right and extending her gloved left arm across her body and seemingly slightly behind her, H. Rucker not only got her glove on the ball, but backhanded it cleanly and then whirled back around to fire a strike to Hibner at first to get the batter by about a stride, ending the eventful half-inning with Savannah still down 1-0 and yet to have a baserunner.

The sixth was less harrowing, but still saw a pair of SHS whiffs sandwich a tricky fielding chance for H. Rucker, senior daughter of head coach L. Rucker.

This time, on a 0-1 offering, Gracie Heitman put a decent bunt down to the third-base side, only to have H. Rucker scurry in to pick it cleanly and then zip a strike to second sacker Pithan covering first base – Hibner had charged toward home plate when she saw the batter start her motion to bunt – to get Heitman by about a half-stride for the second out.

A routine popup taken by Pithan then closed out a sixth perfect inning for CHS’ defense and Boley, giving the host’s offense a chance to deepen the Lady Hornets’ cushion before they returned to the field defensively for the final scheduled inning.

However, Pithan, who had singled and doubled in her first two at-bats, saw her sizzling low liner to the right side short-hop right into the second baseman’s glove and become an out on the second pitch she saw. H. Rucker then bounced out to first on the initial delivery to her and extra hitter Hadley Beemer rolled out to second on a 3-2 delivery from Newton, meaning little rest for Boley on the bench before returning to the pitcher’s circle to work the seventh.

It made no difference, though.

The Chillicothe hurler pumped three strikes in four pitches past each of the top two batters in the SHS lineup before jamming No. 3 hitter Kiera Schaub with a 0-1 pitch that produced the soft, foul popup Hibner put away to complete Boley’s perfect game, advance the Lady Hornets back to the district-championship game for a sixth year in a row (they’ve won only one of the preceding five, including back-to-back losses to Kirksville in 2018-19), and add to the 2021 team’s record-breaking wins mark.

“Kinlei threw really well again and our defense made big plays when it needed to,” summarized the CHS head coach.

“A perfect game against the 10th-ranked in the state is special.”

While Savannah came in ranked 10th in Class 3 by the Missouri FastPitch Coaches Association, Chillicothe was No. 2 behind only Jefferson City: Blair Oaks in the final regular-season rankings. CHS’ district finals foe was No. 5 and the Macon team Kirksville beat Thursday No. 9.

The dominant pitching by both Boley and Newton made the run Chillicothe manufactured with its first three batters of the contest decisive.

Swift CHS leadoff batter Luetticke, a lefty swinger, ripped several pitches foul past the first-base bag before finally spanking a sharp line drive into right field for a single.

On the first pitch to the next batter, she sped for second base on a steal attempt and, with a shoulder-high throw, slid safely in under the shortstop’s belated tag. The next pitch from Newton was softly bunted by Hope Helton back toward the hurler, who easily scooped it up and threw to first for an out as Luetticke took third base.

That put pitcher against pitcher as Boley stepped in with a chance to give herself a lead to protect with any of many outcomes of her at-bat. Swinging at the very first pitch from the Savannah hurler, she topped a slow roller toward the third baseman that, with Luetticke aggressively and immediately breaking for home on contact, the fielder opted to handle cautiously and focus on throwing out Boley, which she did.

Little did anyone in either Danner Park dugout or the seats scattered around the field realize that Luetticke’s team-record-extending 62nd run scored of 2021 – already 22 more than the team mark she set as a junior – on Boley’s 42nd run batted in – six more than the team record she reset last year, but one less than current record-holder Helton has this season – ultimately would be the game’s difference.

Chillicothe had multiple other scoring threats, but always found Newton or a teammate up to the challenge to thwart it.

“We put the ball in play consistently,” coach Rucker assessed, “but (Newton) and their defense did a good job of keeping us from stringing hits together,”

In the third, an infield, leadoff single by Luetticke was immediately followed by her being thrown out trying to steal second on the first pitch to Helton again. It was only the second time in 25 theft attempts this season Luetticke had been caught.

The out took on extra importance when Helton then lofted a pop fly to short left-center field that dropped in safely for a hit. What might have been a first-and-second situation or, had Luetticke been successful, first-and-third for Boley with no one out instead came to nothing.

In the home fourth, Pithan’s 1-out, pop-fly double down the line in right was followed by two groundouts that stranded her at third. With one down in the fifth, Luetticke ripped a third hit to center and took second when a ball poked toward the second baseman by Helton spun past the fielder for an error. However, a groundout to shortstop and, after an intentional walk to load the bases with two outs, a comebacker to Newton denied CHS yet again.

Statistically, Chillicothe’s seven hits came from a mere three sources.

Luetticke went three for three to spike her team-record hits total for the season at 67, nearly 50 percent more than the CHS record of 46 she set in 2020. Helton was two for two plus her key sacrifice bunt and Pithan was two for three.