While Paige Parker is the obvious stalwart that has carried Truman’s softball team, the rest of the defending state champion Patriots have to do some heavy lifting from time to time.
Tuesday at the friendly Adair Park confines was a prime example, as Truman rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to post a 3-2 victory over Park Hill South and clinch its fourth straight Suburban Middle Six title.
Parker had struck out 13 and yielded just three hits and two walks in the circle, and the leadoff home run she belted to center in the fourth had given Truman (23-3, 9-1 conference) a 1-0 lead. But a pair of unearned runs in the fifth gave the visiting Panthers (13-10, 6-3) a lead they carried into the seventh.
With the Patriots down to their last out, Shay Tolbert lashed a first-pitch single to left to plate Victoria Morrow with the tying run and moved to second on the throw home. Brooke VunCannon then stroked a single to right field to score Tolbert without a throw.
“I’ve just been struggling for a couple games with outside pitches. I’d hit the ball today, so I felt confident with my swing and the strike zone,” said VunCannon, who had singled in the first and was thrown out trying to score the game’s first run, then had two hard-hit outs.
“It was a changeup. I just saw it, and I wanted to hit it. I wanted to end it right there. I didn’t want to give them another chance, and Shay’s such a good runner, I knew if I got a hit she’d score.”
Park Hill South pitcher Alyx Hagen had scattered six hits and an intentional walk (to Parker) with four strikeouts entering the seventh, but Morrow started the inning by lining a first-pitch single to left. Hagen got Kendra Amos to pop out after two fouled bunt attempts before Emily VanCompernolle sacrificed Morrow to second, setting the stage for Tolbert.
“Victoria Morrow did a great job leading off, we got a bunt down – which we’d been having trouble sacrificing today – and we got the clutch hit,” Truman coach Amy Temples said. “Going down the stretch this season, you’ve got to do those things.”
Tolbert said she wasn’t necessarily looking to swing at the first offering but got a pitch she liked.
“It was a nice pitch,” Tolbert said. “[I was] a little bit [nervous], but when I went up there I said, ‘I’ve just got to relax.’”
The rally washed away the possible sting of what Temples said was a lackluster effort.
Truman wiggled out of a second-and-third, no-out jam in the second when third baseman Tori Zorich fielded a bunt and threw home for a tag out, catcher Maya Coen snared a pop foul bunt and Parker struck out a batter looking.
In the fifth, the Panthers’ Courtney Todd singled with one out and Courtney Jackson drew a two-out walk. Kylie DeClue skied an infield fly, and Parker vacated the circle to let an infielder come in and make the catch, but none did initially and the ball deflected off the extended glove of second baseman Sara Jeffress. That allowed Todd to score, and Jackson then came home when Parker uncorked a wild pitch before she struck out Erica Lutgen.
“I think they thought someone else was calling it, and there was some sun,” Temples said of the bungled infield fly. “The ball was up there so long and the ground’s so hard, you don’t know where it could go when it bounces. We’ve got to have somebody take charge there.”
Truman had runners at second and third with two outs in the sixth before Hagen induced a groundout from Coen, but the Patriots found an extra gear when they needed it the most.
“We talked in postgame about energy; we lacked quite a bit [in innings] one through six,” Temples said. “Park Hill South brought quite a bit of energy today. The energy we had in the seventh is what we should’ve had in the first. It’s not the way I want to play. It’s not the way I coach; they’ll tell you I’m not a laid-back coach.
“Park Hill South, they were gunning for us today. They came out hacking and swinging, putting the ball the play, stealing bases.”
Follow Mike Genet on Twitter: @genetEJC