Blue Springs South's “battle-tested” softball team had a feeling of deja vu heading into Friday's Class 4 District 13 championship game against a familiar opponent.
For the second year in a row, Lee's Summit North – a team that two wins over South during Suburban Big Six Conference action in the regular season – met the Jaguars in the title game. And for the second year in a row, the Jaguars came away with a heart-stopping victory.
Defensive gems, timely hits and the pitching of Addie Lightner helped the Jaguars claim a 3-1 victory over the Broncos and their fourth straight district title.
"We're battle-tested," South coach Kristi Williams said. "We know what to expect from this team. We've had a game plan the past few games and it just hasn't worked, so we talked about that yesterday (following a 5-4 semifinal win over Blue Springs), and stressed discipline, discipline and more discipline. And after watching our team today, I think they were paying attention."
Last season, a spectacular catch by outfielder Elle Smith was one of the highlights of the team's first state championship postseason run. It would have been difficult for the Jaguars to get past the Broncos without a defensive gem from left fielder Lauren Rogers in the bottom of the fifth inning of Friday's 2-1 game.
North's May McCoy crushed a ball to deep left field that might have been out of the park had it not been for a stiff wind that was blowing toward the infield at the Jaguars’ home field.
"When she hit it, I took a step forward, and really had to start going back," said Rogers, who ran down the ball and made a leaping grab. "I didn't know if I could catch it. She really hit it hard and I stretched out as far as I could go and actually jumped for it and was able to catch it."
The catch was huge because Madison Sanders followed with what might have been a game-tying RBI single.
"That might have been the play of the game, and we had a lot of great defensive plays," said Lightner, who allowed five hits, including two in the bottom of the seventh.
In the bottom of the seventh, McCoy hit a one-out double and Sanders followed with her second single of the game. McCoy stopped at third and Sanders took a wide turn around second when she thought her teammate was headed home.
South catcher Tori Bradley noticed McCoy far off the bag and made a laser beam throw to second baseman Emily Berry, who put the tag on the North base runner.
"Lauren makes the great catch in left field and Tori makes that great throw to second, so the girls were taking care of me defensively," said Lightner, who made a fielding gem herself, when she snagged a Maddie Burton line drive to end the fifth inning.
"I actually backhanded the ball," Lightner admitted. "It was all instinct, but I was so happy to stop it."
South took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning against North starter Cierra Harrison as Regi Hecker opened with a single, stole second and scored on McKenna Lester's RBI double.
Lightner followed with an RBI double and the score stood at 2-0 until North scored its lone run in the bottom of the fifth on a Sanders' single, an error, a fielder's choice groundout and McCoy’s RBI single.
The Jaguars added a huge insurance run in the top of the seventh on singles by Lester and Lightner. Lester got into a rundown between third and home and scored on an errant throw that went into left field.
"Willz (Williams) was waving me home, but I stopped about halfway because the catcher had the ball, so I wanted to get into a rundown so Addie could get to second," Lester said. "But I managed to get into the rundown and they threw the ball away. It was a big play."
"That was a big run and a big play," the South coach said. "We had so many big hits and big defensive plays, and that's what it takes to beat a great team like North."
Following some hugs and photos with the district plaque, Lightner had a moment of reflection.
"We went to state when I was a freshman and we finished second," Lightner said. "We were second my sophomore year and we won it all last year, so this win today is really special. There are players who dream of going to state once. I've been every year I've been on this team and we won a state championship last year, so it's been an amazing career.
"... I had a feeling of deja vu. North beat us twice last year, and we beat them for the district championship and we were able to beat them again today. They're a great team and we have so much respect for them. Now, we have to keep playing like we did today to get to state again this year."