The Pilot Grove Lady Tigers softball team reached new heights during the 2017 season.
While finishing one game short of winning a state championship, the Lady Tigers reaped the rewards after finishing 21-8 overall and 6-0 in the CAC with three players selected to the Missouri High School Fast-Pitch All-State Team.
The good news is that all the players return next season for the Lady Tigers. Juniors Samarah Bailey and Melanie Wolfe were both first-team selections in Class 1 while Emily Schupp, another junior, was selected to the second team.
Pilot Grove softball coach Neal Bailey said all the girls are well deserving of the recognition they receive. “They work hard during the season and put in time outside of the season to improve,” Bailey said. “Every year brings its own challenges. The biggest challenge we had this year was determining who would play what position. We knew we had the talent to do good things, we just had to figure out where the girls would play with the greatest comfort and ultimate success. Once the girls gained a little experience at their positions, they were able to trust in their abilities and each other. After that, we settled in and started to play well and continued to get better as the season progressed. Like every coach hopes for, we were playing our best softball towards the end of the season. Combine that with the tremendous support from the community and we were able to do something that has never been done at Pilot Grove. The final four and subsequent state championship appearance was an experience none of us will ever forget. I am extremely proud of the girls for the way they approached this season and how they continued to play throughout the season, win or lose. I have never had a team that played so unselfishly and well together.”
Of course it didn’t hurt that Bailey’s daughter was also the starting pitcher for the Lady Tigers. While finishing the season 19-4 overall with an ERA of .1.398, the junior hurler also recorded a season-high 244 strikeouts while giving up just 47 runs (15 earned) on 83 hits and 28 walks in 141 innings. She also finished third on the team in hitting with a .411 clip with 39 hits in 95 at-bats with 32 singles, six doubles, one home run, 31 RBIs and 20 runs scored.
Bailey said when she found out about being selected for the all-state team she automatically wanted to hear who else made it.
“It has been an honor to play with every one of the girls on this team,” Bailey said. “I am beyond excited to be one of the players representing the team. I would not be here if it weren’t for each girl and every girl on this team. They had my back through the whole season and I thank them for giving me a year to remember.”
A three-time all-conference, all-district and all-region selection, Bailey was also voted as the MVP of the Central Activities Conference this past season. She was also academic all-state in 2016.
Bailey said the Final Four was also the best game the team had played all season. She said everyone on the team made amazing offensive and defensive plays.
“The unity and trust in this team was through the roof and it was incredibly special to share that opportunity with these girls,” Bailey said.
As for the biggest influence on her playing softball, Bailey said she had many key figures encouraging her to play softball throughout her career. She said every year she is further inspired by the girls on the team.
“We are all playing this game together and it is inspiring to see everyone work together and make each other better.”
Bailey said she also plays softball because she likes the unity the most. She said it is special to know there is a whole team working together every day to get better and stronger. Through softball, she said, they are able to develop friendships that will last a lifetime.
Wolfe also came into her own as the starting catcher this season for the Lady Tigers. While sharing time in the circle early in the season, Wolfe became the every day catcher for the Lady Tigers and flourished while leading the team in six offensive categories while hitting .489 with 44 hits in 90 at-bats with seven home runs and 40 RBIs. She also had an on-base percentage of .510 and a slugging percentage of .889 not to mention 24 singles, 11 doubles, three triples and 22 runs scored. In the circle, Wolfe finished 2-4 overall with an ERA of 3.706 while recording 37 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings.
Wolfe said she was very honored to have gotten selected to the all-state team because it just shows how hard the team supporters worked to support them and how hard they worked to show them that they have a reason to be there supporting them. “I think my town and the support is what go me where I stand in the all-state team by making me work harder,” Wolfe said.
A three-year all-conference, all-district and all-region selection for the Lady Tigers, Wolfe said the highlight of her career as a team thus far is definitely going to state and having a bunch of town support and even different towns support.
“My individual highlight of my career is when I started catching I felt like I’ve been catching forever,” Wolfe said. “We started getting later into the season and we all knew that the change of everyone’s position helped us tremendously. I like being the catcher because since it was my first year ever being a catcher I thought it was a really big privileged to be able to get to the state championship my first year catching. To me catching is just another position I was put in as a utility player to show my ability to do anything.”
Wolfe said the Rock Bridge game was also the best game this season because they played as a team and had good intensity the whole game knowing that working as a team they could be great.
As far as the biggest influence on her playing softball, Wolfe said it has to be her mom because she taught her how to play softball from the beginning and she got her to where she is today.
“What I liked most about playing softball this season would be watching how our team developed throughout the year and how much closer we became as our little family,” Wolfe said. “I also liked how our community came together like a family to support us which made us have even more fun when we were winning.”
Schupp also had a banner season at shortstop for the Lady Tigers.
While starting every year at the shortstop position, Schupp also hit in the lead-off position for Pilot Grove from the left side. Finishing second in hitting only to Wolfe, Schupp still managed to closeout the season with a .416 average with a team-leading 30 singles and 13 walks along with 24 stolen bases. She also had 37 hits in 89 at-bats with six doubles, one triple, 14 RBIs and 32 runs scored.
Schupp said she was very honored to be selected all-state.
“I know in my heart that softball is a game that requires a team effort,” Schupp said. “No win that we had happened because of one or two good plays. It was because all of us gave our best and played our best for each other.”
Like Bailey and Wolfe, Schupp also earned all-conference, all-district and all-region three years running. She was also selected to the academic all-state team as a sophomore.
As for the highlight of her career thus far, Schupp said it would have to be when the team went to state.
“This was a definite highlight because we were the first softball team in Pilot Grove to make it this far,” Schupp said. “Making it this far and seeing all the support our team gave and team received was incredible and definitely something that will never be forgotten.”
Schupp also chose the game against Chaffee as best game of the season for the Lady Tigers. She said the entire team had a great game defensively and were able to capitalize offensively when they needed to.
“We had a great attitude going into that game and I believe it showed in how well we handled each inning,” Schupp said.
As for playing shortstop, Schupp said she likes that position because it’s a little bit of everything. In this spot, she said, you receive ground balls and pop flies. She also enjoys it because this is a position where you receive a lot of action.
As for the biggest influence on her playing softball, Schupp said it’s her mom.
“Ever since I started playing when I was little she has been one of my biggest supporters,” Schupp said. “She has always been right there and always knows what to say or when to say something when she sees my attitude fluctuate on the field. If there was one person that I played for, besides myself it would be her. Also, my biggest influence playing softball are my teammates. Going out on the field every game I know that I’m not only playing for myself but that I am playing for each and every one of those girls on the team. We also push each other to be better on and off the field and for that I am forever grateful.”