Liberty coach Scott Howard wasn’t going to let Truman’s Paige Parker beat the Blue Jays in Friday’s Class 4 District 15 finals – at least with her bat.
Parker’s arm could carry the Patriots, but at the plate it would be up her teammates.
It took an extra inning, but they eventually came through, as senior Tori Zorich’s bases-loaded single with one out in the eighth dropped into shallow left field and plated freshman Victoria Morrow to give defending state champion Truman a 1-0 heart-stopping victory at Fort Osage High School.
Parker, who batted 4-for-4 with home run in Thursday’s semifinal win over Kearney, drew an intentional walk from Blue Jays hurler Alyson Gerstner each of her four trips to the plate. But Liberty (22-10) couldn’t avoid her left arm, which fired a two-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts and no walks.
It was the type of game Truman (27-3) coach Amy Temples anticipated, and the type of win found in most softball team’s lengthy tournament runs.
“Everybody does,” Temples said about having to win a game like Friday’s to advance. “From here on out, it’s great competition. Liberty played a great game, and it was a great game from both sides. We knew they’d walk her. We knew we would have to beat them some other way.”
Outside of the intentional walks, Gerstner allowed had allowed just one hit with eight strikeouts through the first seven innings. But Morrow started the eighth by slamming a 1-0 pitch off the fence in left center, the first leadoff hitter from either team to reach base.
“I just told myself, ‘See the ball and drive it,’” Morrow said. “I had to build up my confidence to that.”
Brooke VunCannon followed with a successful sacrifice bunt, and Howard ordered intentional walks to Maya Coen and Parker to produce a potential force-out at home.
“Victoria Morrow came up with the huge leadoff hit,” Temples said. “Don’t forget Brooke VunCannon’s bunt. Without the runner on third, they probably would’ve pitched to Maya and then walked Paige.”
With all fielders drawn in, Zorich took a first-pitch ball, then hit a soft liner that tapped off the glove of leaping shortstop Brooke Bernard. Morrow strided across home plate, setting off a celebration out of one dugout and tears on the other side.
“I was looking for a pitch I could elevate and probably drive,” Zorich said. “The first pitch, I thought I could handle it, but then I thought I might pop it up. When the next one came, I said ‘That’s the one I want.’”
When she made contact, Zorich thought Bernard could well make the catch.
“I was a little freaked out about that, but everything worked it out like it should,” she said.
Howard said he figured even throughout the regular season, and especially after Thursday, that he would walk Parker and force other Patriots to hit.
“We’d talked about this all season long, if we got to Truman,” he said. “Their girl made a great hit to get the double, and they had the good sac(rifice). If we’re playing a couple feet back, (the game-winner) is probably a catch.
“Alyson pitched a great game, start-to-finish. I couldn’t have asked for any more of her.”
Zorich had a chance to play hero two innings earlier, after Coen singled with two outs, breaking up Gerstner’s no-hitter, and Parker walked. Zorich turned on a fastball and sent it far over the left-field fence but well foul. She then looked at changeups for the next two strikes, though Temples said that was no fault of Zorich’s.
“I knew she had a lot of experience and she would stick with it,” Temples said of Zorich.
Truman also had a runner at second in the seventh inning following a one-out error and sacrifice bunt, but Gerstner fanned pinch hitter Anika Kessler. After the inning, Temples told her players they were getting closer to breaking through, a thought Parker echoed after the game.
“I definitely could feel it,” said Parker, who improved her record to 22-3. “I knew we would score a run. Right before the inning, we came up to hit a lot more focused, and Tori came through with a big hit.”
Parker’s lone stressful inning was the fifth, when Ashlyn Herrington laced a one-out single to center and Gerstner legged out a bunt hit. Jacyee Bernholtz then sacrificed the runners ahead, but Parker fanned Ashlyn Sutton on three pitches.
“I was focusing with the riseball and changeup when pitching,” Parker said. “Maya did a great job catching, and my defense was great. I was pitching just to try to get outs.”
Liberty had no other baserunners, as Truman played flawless defense when called upon.
“We’re doing a great job with the short game (bunts) right now,” Temples said. “That’s been what people go to when they can’t hit Paige.”
CLASS 4 DISTRICT 14: Blue Springs had edged Lee’s Summit twice in the Suburban Big Six by 1-0 and 2-1 scores. But the third time was the charm for the Tigers in the Class 4 District 14 finals Friday at Blue Springs South.
Emily Robertson pitched a three-hitter and struck out seven in pitching Lee’s Summit to a 3-1 victory. Losing pitcher Alexis Reid allowed only six hits and struck out three.
The Tigers scored single runs in the second, fourth and sixth innings. Blue Springs’ only run came in the seventh when Darrian Frost doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly.
“I knew it would be a close game,” Blue Springs coach Roger Lower said after his Big Six champion Wildcats finished 23-4. “We hadn’t been playing well over the last three weeks. We were 3-3 the last six games. I could see it (loss) coming.”
The Wildcats’ outlook is bright as they lose only one senior.
Lee’s Summit advanced to Wednesday’s sectionals against Raymore-Peculiar, which defeated Belton 2-1 in extra innings Friday for the District 13 title.
CLASS 3 DISTRICT 14: The season is over for Oak Grove and Grain Valley.
Each fell in the semifinals of the Class 3 District 14 tournament Thursday at Oak Grove’s Webb Park.
Top-seeded Boonville scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to edge Oak Grove 6-5. And Grain Valley fell to Odessa 12-9.
“It was tough one,” Oak Grove coach Jesse Edwards said of the loss. “But we had an improvement over last year and the next couple of years we could be very good.”
Alexis Hertel was the losing pitcher. Savannah Taylor doubled twice and singled and Ashley Davis singled twice with two RBIs as Oak Grove ended a 12-15 season.
Jordyn Tieman was the losing Grain Valley pitcher. Taylor Mays led the attack with two singles and a two-run homer.
“Maybe we will do better next year,” Grain Valley coach Calvin Valvo said after the Eagles finished 10-15 after finishing as the Class 3 state runner-up last season.