Power-Packed: 11-0 win propels CHS to Class 3 softball state finals

Lady Hornets club record five home runs, backing Boley’s 1-hitter, in romp at Holden Wednesday

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
A third-inning pitch leaves the bat of Chillicothe High School junior Kirsten Dunn on its way to leaving the park for a solo home run during CHS' 11-0, 6-innings victory over host Holden in the Class 3 state softball tournament Wednesday, Oct. 20. Dunn, whose squeeze bunt had driven in the game's first run in the top of the first inning, added another solo home run in the fifth inning.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

HOLDEN, Mo. – With both their hitting and pitching Wednesday night, the Chillicothe High School softball Lady Hornets powered their way to Springfield and a second-ever appearance in the state tournament semifinals and finals next week.

With what apparently are a team-record five home runs delivered by four players – two by junior shortstop Kirsten Dunn and one each by Bre Pithan, Sophia Luetticke and Hope Helton – and 1-hit pitching by ace righthander Kinlei Boley, who tied a team individual record herself with her 21st win of the year, the Lady Hornets (29-4) overwhelmed host Holden 11-0 in six innings in the quarterfinals of the Class 3 state tournament.

“Man, we had such a great game tonight,” Chillicothe second-year head coach Lee Rucker marveled in an on-field, post-game interview with the C-T.

“Going into the game, earlier (Wednesday),” he added later in the chat. “I thought we could do that, we could come out and put up eight or 10 runs, but I didn’t know if we would, but, man, once they got the bats going, it just becomes contagious and tonight everybody jumped on board.”

“A great overall team win,” Helton summed up her analysis of the Lady Hornets’ dominant performance and her personal emotions. “… Couldn’t be any happier.”

Sophomore outfielder Jolie Bonderer of the Chillicothe High School softball Lady Hornets rips her third hit of the game into center field leading of the top of the sixth inning of Wednesday's Class 3 state tournament game at host Holden. Two batters later, Hope Helton's 3-runs home run would put CHS up by the 11-0 margin it won by in six innings.

Having turned another of the team’s preseason goals into accomplishments eased the unspoken tension which had shadowed the Lady Hornets all season, given the returning talent from last year’s district runnerup squad.

A single late-season stumble, outcomes-wise, and a tail-off from the extremely-potent midseason hitting the team had done had caused wariness of a single postseason misstep that could cost the team a trip to Springfield.

“As coaches, we often talk about not peaking too early or all that – and we played some really good ball in the middle of the season – and you don’t want to stop playing good ball, but you worry about whether we peaked too soon,” coach Rucker confirmed. “Then we had the little hiccup at the end of the year with Putnam County, which might have been a positive, because we were in some tough spots and made a couple of mistakes and learned from those.

“I think that probably helped us… in the district tournament when we had to grind out a couple of tough (wins). Just kept thinking eventually the bats are going to come back to life and they did tonight at the perfect time.”

Bre Pithan of the Chillicothe High School softball Lady Hornets smiles as she heads down the third-base line toward home plate after being congratulated by third-base/head coach Lee Rucker on her third-inning solo home run at Holden Wedneesday, Oct. 20. The blow, immediately following one by Kirsten Dunn, gave CHS a 4-0 lead and it went on to prevail in six innings, 11-0, advancing the Lady Hornets to the Class 3 state semifinals for the first time in 10 years.

Back-to-back solo home runs by Dunn and fellow junior Pithan in the bottom of the third inning doubled the 2-0 lead those two had delivered in the first with a squeeze bunt and being hit by a pitch, respectively.

Once the CHS bats plugged in their power, the game soared out of Holden’s reach, especially considering the Lady Eagles were being nearly no-hit by Boley.

“We were ready for them,” Pithan shared after the contest. “We had been preparing for it and we knew we could hit them because we did when we first faced them.”

“The girls knew from that point on, ‘Hey, we’re kind of timing (Lady Eagles starting pitcher Maddie Sechrest) and squaring the ball up and they just kept doing it the rest of the game.”

In the Chillicothe fourth, inning-opening hits by sophomore Nos. 8 and 9 batters Hadley Beemer and Jolie Bonderer were followed by lefthanded-swinging leadoff hitter Sophia Luetticke’s launch over the friendly fence in left-center field, making it 7-0 and signaling the end of Holden starting pitcher’s Maddie Sechrest stint in the pitcher’s circle.

In the fifth, Dunn touched off her solo shot, this time over the fence in right-center after she’d pulled her third-inning clout to straightaway left. That made it 8-0.

“I felt like I got all of them, no doubt, which felt really good because I hadn’t made contact like that in a couple of games,” Dunn told the C-T, adding to her earlier reaction, “it just felt good to get some good cuts on the ball. Definitely boosted my confidence a little.”

The home half of the fifth saw Boley, who had only allowed one prior baserunner on a third-inning hit batsman, lose her bid for a second postseason no-hitter. Relief pitcher Abby Sisk pulled a soft line drive squarely between the shortstop and third baseman when the CHS hurler had a 2-outs changeup drift in high in the strike zone, but she never moved past first base.

The top of the sixth opened with a sizzling single up the middle for Bonderer’s third-straight hit, which Luetticke followed with her second extra-base hit to left-center – a double that sent Bonderer to third.

Junior catcher and No. 2 batter Hope Helton then stepped in and pounded a pitch high over the scoreboard behind the left-field fence, putting the Lady Hornets in position to win by the 10-runs-lead rule after the bottom of the sixth.

The second CHS 3-runs shot and fifth total long ball of the game surpassed the apparent single-game record of four home runs established last year and, a huge push, pulled this year’s club into a tie with the 2011 Lady Hornets for most home runs in a season – 20.

It also broke the team-leading and team-record tie for runs batted in for a season Helton had been in with classmate and batterymate Boley. Helton now has 46 RBI on the year.

Junior Hope Helton of the Chillicothe High School softball Lady Hornets rips a sixth-inning pitch that would sail over the scoreboard in left field for a 3-runs home run that capped the scoring in CHS' 11-0 triumph over host Holden in the Class 3 state tournament quarterfinals Wednesday, Oct. 20. The three runs driven in reestablished her as both this season's team leader in RBI with 46, which also is the team record for a season.

All that remained at that juncture was to see if Holden could solve Boley enough to extend the game to its full scheduled length. The answer quickly was “No,” as the CHS hurler fielded a grounder back to her, first baseman Mika Hibner reacted in an eyeblink to spear a sizzling line drive just in fair territory, and center fielder Luetticke squeezed a fly ball a few feet in front of the fence in right-center to officially avenge the team’s 11-4 loss to Holden during the season-opening Greater Kansas City Suburban Invitational tournament at Independence and unleash the CHS celebration of its upcoming journey to the Oct. 29-30 state semifinals at Springfield.

“We knew how to throw to them, we knew how to play them (positionally on defense), we knew what to do, we knew how we could handle the game, and we knew how to win,” Boley said of her and the team’s collective readiness for the rematch.

“When we played them early in the year, we hit the ball – we had 11 hits in that game; we just didn’t get timely hits that got runs across. We left several (runners) stranded,” coach Rucker recalled.

That prior game also saw only CHS second-line pitchers Halle Rucker and Hadley Beemer pitch, not Boley.

“It wasn’t necessarily that we didn’t want them to see her – we knew we might see them in this game, but there were two or three other pretty good teams in Holden’s district, as well,” coach Rucker stated Wednesday. “It was really just she had already thrown the (maximum) I was going to use her that weekend.”

However, later developments made that August decision impactful in October. By contrast, Holden used the same two pitchers it threw Wednesday in the KC tournament game, too.

“It did work out in our favor, I think, that they hadn’t really gotten to see her and have to face her before,” the Lady Hornets head coach admitted. “Tonight, they were having to make some adjustments and she really did a good job of keeping them off-balance.”

The softball Lady Hornets’ only other appearance in the state semis and finals was exactly 10 years ago. That squad finished second, losing 2-0 in the state title game to Centralia.

While Chillicothe’s semifinal game against Perryville (16-13) at the Killian Softball Complex in central Springfield is set for Friday at 2 p.m., if it comes out on the short end of it, its third-place game will be that evening at 7:30.

The Class 3 state-championship contest is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 3:30.

Statistically Wednesday, Chillicothe out-hit Holden 13-1 with seven of the 13 going for extra bases. Both Helton and Luetticke doubled and homered, while Dunn went deep twice and Pithan once.

Luetticke’s pair of hits and runs scored hiked her team-record season totals for those categories to 70 and 65, respectively, more than 50% higher than the new team marks she established in 2020.

By earning the pitching decision, Boley joined Mallory Lowe in 2006 and Sarah Baldwin in 2008, 2010 and 2011 in notching 21 wins in a season.

For Dunn, her pair of roundtrippers gave her four for the year, while for Helton, Luetticke and Pithan, theirs were No. 3 of 2021.