SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Tori Bradley had never been more determined in her life to get a base hit.
In four at-bats, Marquette starter Annah Junge had walked Addie Lightner intentionally each time to get to the Blue Springs South sophomore catcher.
"My last at-bat, I was hitting for Addie and my team and to show that (Marquette) coach she shouldn't have walked Addie all those times," said Bradley, who stroked a two-run double that led to a dramatic 6-5 victory over the Mustangs Friday morning in a Class 4 state semifinal at the Killian Softball Complex.
"When I hit that ball and drove in those runs, I was like, 'Yeah, Addie! That's for you!'"
But the drama had just begun in the final inning of this thriller.
With the Jaguars leading 6-4, Marquette's Jessica Wilsey singled with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. Ellen Morginnis reached base on an infield error, and the Mustangs had the tying runs on second and third.
"I knew that after we took the lead in the top of the inning, there was no way we were going to let them tie the game," South starter Easton Seib said.
And she was right.
No. 5 hitter Lindsey Stezler hit a ground ball back to Seib, who looked the runner back at third and threw to first.
The throw beat Stezler, but pinch runner Taylor Emmerson broke for home.
With everyone in the dugout and on the field screaming "throw home!" freshman first baseman Bailey Brumley made a perfect throw to home and Bradley made the tag. The game was over and the Jaguars had advanced to the state championship game.
"Senior, to freshman to sophomore," a grinning South coach Kristi Williams said, referring to Seib fielding the ball, throwing to Brumley and the first baseman's throw to home to Bradley. "What a way to end the game! Wow!"
"This game was so amazing," said Seib, one of two senior starters on a team that includes so many newcomers that many of them did not know that the Jaguars had been to state the two previous years. "I'm the team mother hen. I love our young kids. Today, I really love Bailey and Tori – that play to end the game was amazing. We work on it all the time in practice and it sure worked today."
The Jaguars (22-6) now meet Troy Buchanan (26-4-1), a 6-0 winner over Raymore-Peculiar, at noon Saturday in the state title game.
Moments after the victory – in which wind-chill temperatures hovered in the mid-30s for most of the game – the Jaguars took a deep breath and celebrated.
"We know we have our biggest game tomorrow, but we have to celebrate a little bit," said Brumley, who is appearing in her first postseason. "I'm a freshman, this is my first state championship and I just can't believe it. We have worked so hard all year and our coaches had us ready for a play like that. I hadn't had to throw a ball the whole game, and it is so cold. I was just hoping my arm would still work."
It did work, Bradley said.
“That was a perfect throw,” the catcher said. “You know, because of rules, you can't block the entire plate, but I had enough blocked and with that perfect throw, I could make the tag. Getting that hit in the top of the inning and getting the last out was pretty cool. A lot of fans wrote us letters to wish us luck, and I never cry, but I read those letters and started to cry. This win was for them, too. And for all the people who drove up here to watch us play and freeze and cheer for us. This is amazing!"
For 4 1/2 innings, the Jaguars held a 2-0 lead. Another freshman, outfielder Elle Smith, who went 2-for-4, scored the first run on a wild pitch after stealing third base in the third inning. Regi Hecker doubled and scored on an Abby Sciara sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth.
"What about our freshmen?" asked Seib, who allowed seven hits and struck out five in the complete-game victory. "They came to play! We all came to play."
The Mustangs, though, grabbed a 4-2 lead by scoring three unearned runs in the fifth and a solo run in the sixth on a two-out single by Brook Branstetter.
"I have to be honest with you," Seib said, "I began to wonder if we might lose the game when they took that 4-2 lead in the sixth. But I knew we had one more inning.”
And what an inning it was.
To start the top of the seventh, Seib hit a bullet off the glove of Mustangs first baseman Eileen McGinnis and was replaced by pinch runner Lauren Good. Lauren Rogers singled and both advanced to second and third on a passed ball.
After Hecker struck out, Smith reached second base on the second error of the inning and Good and Rogers scored to tie it. After Sciara’s groundout advanced Smith to third, Lightner was walked for the fourth time. Bradley made the Mustangs pay with a double to score Smith and Lightner for the lead.
"That's not the first time Tori had gotten a big hit after Addie was walked," Williams said. "When she hit it, I was so excited. I knew we still had to get them out in the bottom of the inning, and we were able to do that, but none of us want this season to end! One more game! One more game – and we're going to be ready."