Will play Chaffee Friday in semifinal round at Killian Complex in Springfield starting at 2 p.m.
The Pilot Grove Lady Tigers softball team made history Saturday in a Class 1 quarterfinal game against the Clopton Lady Hawks.
While facing two-time all-state pitcher Maya Street, the Lady Tigers managed just two runs on six hits against Street. But in the end that proved to be enough as Pilot Grove defeated Clopton 2-1 to earn its first ever trip to the Final Four.
The Lady Tigers, 20-7 on the season, will face Chaffee (18-11) in the semifinal round of the state tournament Friday at Killian Complex in Springfield starting at 2 p.m. Chaffee defeated Halfway Saturday in Chaffee by a score of 15-0.
Pilot Grove coach Neal Bailey said the game against Clopton was something else.
“It had it’s ups and downs,” Bailey said. “They put us in some positions that we really had to focus to get out of, but they did well. The girls executed what they needed to do. It was a good game all the way around. First time to make it to the Final four in school history that’s a big deal. Our goal maybe and their goal at the beginning of the year was to try to make it down to Springfield for the Final four. I know it’s very, very hard and a very lofty goal but I knew we had the girls to do it and the talent to do it.”
The Lady Tigers will now get a chance to do it this coming Friday against Chaffee.
However the game Saturday had all the makings of being a great pitching duel between Street and the Lady Tigers very own Samarah Bailey, who entered the game with 17 wins in 20 games.
As it turned out, Bailey out-dueled Street for her 18th win of the season while giving up just one run on five hits and one walk while striking out 13 batters. Street, meanwhile, took the loss despite striking out 12 batters in seven innings. She also gave up just two runs on six hits and three walks.
Bailey said she felt really good against Clopton and had a lot of confidence going into the game.
“I have a lot of confidence in every single one of these girls,” Bailey said. “I knew if they hit the ball it’s not the end of the world so that helps me. And if they strikeout they strikeout. But I know that somebody will have my back out here.”
As it turned out, the entire Lady Tigers had Bailey’s back on this day, which started with a solo home run to left by sophomore Natalie Rentel in the top-half of the second.
While hitting her first career home run of the season last Wednesday against Calvary Lutheran, Rentel hit the first pitch right down the middle against Street to give the Lady Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Bailey said Rentel’s hit was huge again because it gave the Lady Tigers the momentum.
“Back to back in big games,” Bailey said. “I’m not sure they expected anybody to hit a home run like that but she got it up and out and Natalie crushed it. I think more than anything it was like OK we can put some runs up here and we know we have the defense and pitching, where we were going to limit them to none or one or whatever low runs so that was huge.”
Both teams also had plenty of chances to score runs in the game. Pilot Grove had runners on base in six out of the seven innings while Clopton put runners on in five innings.
Needless to say it didn’t look good early on for the Lady Tigers after back to back singles by Taylor Smith and Allison Hunter in its half of the first. But that went nowhere when junior catcher Melanie Wolfe gunned down Smith at third.
Then, after Rentel’s home run in the second, Clopton came back and left one runner on base in the third after an infield single by Kaitlyn Kuntz with two outs.
Bailey also had eight strikeouts through three innings while Street had five strikeouts.
Meanwhile, in the fourth, the Lady Tigers had two runners on after two walks but were denied after Street came back and got Sasha Moore on a strikeout to end the inning. Clopton also left one on in its half of the inning after a one-out walk by Bailey.
That’s how the score remained until the sixth when Pilot Grove added another run on two straight singles by Emily Schupp and Samarah Bailey and a ground out by Wolfe to make it 2-0.
Of course the game was far from being over at that point. After hitting the lead off batter in the bottom-half of the sixth, Bailey surrendered another single to center by Smith. Then, after getting Allison Hunter on a fly out to center, the Lady Hawks came back and scored one run on an error to cut the lead to 2-1.
Clopton never got any closer in the inning as Bailey struck out the next batter for the second out and then got the final hitter on a ground out to short on a bang, bang play at first to end the threat.
Bailey said it was definitely nerve wrecking in the sixth but she knew she could do it. “I knew that no matter what happens we would comeback,” Bailey said. “The defense was solid so that’s all we needed.”
Neal Bailey said the bang, bang play by Schupp was a heck of a play. “If she sits back on that they’re safe and that run is in and it’s a tie ballgame,” Bailey said. “She got it out of her glove quick so that was huge.”
If you thought that play was huge, Schupp came up with another big play to end the game in the seventh with one on. Except this time Schupp had help while colliding with center fielder Reagan McFatrich while attempting to catch the ball. As it turned out, Schupp wound up lodging the ball between her and McFatrich but somehow managed to keep the ball from falling to the ground to record the final out.
Bailey said he has been preaching teamwork all year long and two people catching the last ball, that’s pretty good teamwork.
Schupp said it was kind of mutual between her and McFatrich.
“We knew where each other was and it was just there,” Schupp said, “and then after I made the catch I was like ‘holy cow’ we got it, that’s three outs. I think as a team we were mentally prepared the whole game and our focus was there the whole time and no one let up whenever there was a mistake made. Everybody was right there picking you up the whole time and it was just good all around.”
Schupp also came up big at the plate with two singles in three at-bats with one walk. Abby Schupp was also 2-for-3 with two singles while Rentel homered and drove in one run. Samarah Bailey added one single while Wolfe drove in one run.
For Clopton, Taylor Smith went 2-for-3 with two singles while Kaitlyn Kuntz, Allison Hunter and Jillian Lockard added one single each.