SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Blue Springs South softball team had the bases loaded with two out in the bottom of the third inning.
On a 1-2 count, Jaguars catcher Haley Woolf swung and missed and headed for the dugout.
The inning was over. Or was it?
“Run! Run! Run!” one of the Jaguar coaches shouted to Woolf.
A confused Woolf got back on the base path and took off for first. Everyone advanced a base, including Raegan Hecker, who touched home plate.
The Staley defense was ready to go back in the dugout. However, Falcons catcher Lauren White dropped the third strike and the umpires ruled that she did not touch home plate to complete the out. Confusion hit the Staley players and fans like a tidal wave. The fans pleaded to the umpires that White had touched home plate.
The umpires discussed the play at home plate. The call was upheld.
It was a bizarre sequence of events. It was controversial. But in the end, it led to the four-run inning for the Jaguars and it helped them reach the Class 4 state championship game for the second consecutive year in a 5-3 win Friday at the Killian Softball Complex, ending Staley’s 23-game winning streak.
The Jaguars will face St. Louis Marquette, who defeated Francis Howell 6-4 in the other semifinal, in the championship game today at 2 p.m.
Jaguars head coach Kristi Williams and Woolf were still in shock about those turn of events following the victory.
“We all saw the ball pop right out of the catcher’s glove,” Williams said. “She picked it up and threw it toward the pitcher’s circle. And we’re yelling at Haley to run to first because she was going that way (toward the dugout). Then everyone else ran. Everyone was where they were supposed to be. I’m thinking the catcher thought she touched home, but we kept running.”
Added Woolf: “I had absolutely no idea (that the catcher dropped the ball). I had my head down and was walking back to the dugout. Then our first base coach was like, ‘Run! Run! Run!’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And I just ran for first.”
The play allowed a run to score, making it 3-2 and the bases were still loaded. First baseman Addie Lightner came up next and drilled a bases-clearing triple to the left-center field gap past a diving Lindsey Gilbert. After Lightner slid to third base to give the Jaguars a 5-3 lead, she pointed with both hands to the South dugout and leaped and clapped her hands above her head in jubilation.
“I knew we needed a good hit, so I sat on a changeup,” said Lightner, a first-year varsity starter who entered Friday’s semifinal with a .434 batting average. “I wanted to get runs across somehow.”
Added Williams: “I wasn’t expecting a triple, I just said, ‘Get a hit!’ Once we got the lead, I thought, ‘OK. We’re going to win this.’”
South starting pitcher Sydney Righi and the defense made sure that score held up. In the first three innings, a misplayed fly ball and an infield throwing error led to two runs for Staley.
In the first, the Falcons scored two runs without getting a hit on a sacrifice fly and a fielding error. Righi had two walks and a hit batter that helped Staley take a 2-0 edge.
Even after falling behind early, there was no panic from the Jaguars.
“I said, ‘Hey guys, we’re fine, we can score more runs than this,’” Williams remembers saying after the top of the first concluded.
In the third inning, the misplayed fly ball resulted in a double for Lauren Lauvetz and she scored on an infield single from Kayley Williams.
After that inning, Righi and the defense buckled down. She retired 12 of the last 13 batters she faced, with the only hit in the final four innings coming on a bunt single. Her plight was aided by a pair of athletic catches by center fielder Madison Crosslin and a double play in which Sciara caught a line drive caught and threw to first to nab the runner.
When Righi completed a 1-2-3 inning to end it in the seventh, she was mobbed by her teammates in the circle.
“She did great,” Woolf said of Righi, who gave up two earned runs on five hits and struck out four in a complete-game effort. “We were all kind of tense the first few innings. We made little errors here and there. We settled down after that.”
While Woolf made a heads-up play to extend a crucial third inning, she also contributed in another way. She crushed a fastball over the center field wall in the second to give the Jaguars (24-9) their first run.
“I was just hoping it didn’t get caught in the wind,” Williams said. “I knew it was hit hard and I was thinking, ‘Don’t hold up in the wind!’ Haley came through when we needed a lift.”
Now South is one win away from capturing its first state championship in program history. It’s a given that the Jags will be seeking redemption after falling to Troy Buchanan 4-3 in last year’s state championship game.
“Oh yeah! We’re definitely looking for a different result than last year,” Righi said. “We are going to try our best and hopefully it will end the way we want it to.”
Added Williams: “Because a lot of these girls got a lot of experience in the playoffs last year, we should come out tomorrow more relaxed.”