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Patriots rally past Eagles in key league battle

By Bill Althaus
bill.althaus@examiner.net
Truman pitcher Myel White screams in celebration along with teammates after closing out a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh inning to preserve the Patriots' 4-2 win at Grain Valley. The Patriots took over the Suburban Middle Six Conference lead from the Eagles with the win and the two teams will share the league title if both win out.

A never-say-die Truman softball team was down to its last three outs against Suburban Middle Six opponent Grain Valley in a battle for the conference lead.

That’s when a trio of seniors showed why they have had such an impact on coach Dan Harper’s Patriots this season.

Grain Valley’s Malia Gutierrez hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the host Eagles a 2-1 lead against Myel White and the Patriots. That’s when things started clicking for White and Co.

Grain Valley's Malia Gutierrez (white helmet) is mobbed by happy teammates after slugging a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning of Tuesday's game to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead. Their joy was short-lived as Truman rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh inning for a 4-2 win.

“We were down to the bottom of our order in the seventh,” Harper said, “but sometimes that’s a good thing because those kids aren’t often involved in clutch situations. They just go up to the plate and hit – and that’s what they did today.”

No. 6 hitter Tayler Hastings led off with just the second hit of the game off Eagles starter Hailey Hemme.

Addi Sutton followed with a single, leaving runners on first and second.

No. 8 hitter Annali West then hit a ground ball to first, and Ella Clyman alertly threw home. Hastings was caught in a rundown and was tagged out, leaving runners on first and second. Hemme picked up her 11th strikeout before Kennedy Rucker stepped to the plate.

The senior center fielder’s error played a key role in the Eagles’ 2-1, 9-inning win over Truman the last time the two teams hooked up. She made sure that was a distant memory with a slicing line drive to right field that just eluded the glove of Avery Huffman.

Rucker, one of the area’s top sprinters, raced to third for a triple and two runs scored. Senior shortstop Erynn Boatright then brought Rucker home with an RBI single.

Truman center fielder Kennedy Rucker (2) prepares to score from third base on an RBI single by Erynn Boatright in the top of the seventh inning Tuesday at Grain Valley. Rucker had just hit a two-run triple to put the Patriots ahead 3-2 when Boatright added the insurance run in the 4-2 win.

That’s when White, the final member of the senior triad, took the mound and retired the Eagles 1-2-3, recording her 11th strikeout for the final out.

“I feel so much better after this game than I did the last game,” said Rucker, as a grinning White nodded in agreement. “We had talked about me bunting the ball, but there were two outs ...”

Added Harper: “We knew there were two outs and I wanted her to swing the bat. She could have beat out a good bunt, but we made the right call. That was a great hit. And now, if we beat Raytown and Grain Valley wins out, we tie for the conference championship, and that hasn’t happened since the (three-time state Gatorade Player of the Year) Paige Parker days.”

White, who had pitched a no-hitter against Fort Osage the day before, nodded in agreement with her coach.

Truman left fielder Annali West watches a drive by Grain Valley's Malia Gutierrez clear the fence in Tuesday's Suburban Middle Six matchup. Gutierrez's blast gave the host Eagles a 2-1 lead but Truman rallied in the next inning for a 4-2 win.

“This is going to become a great rivalry, Truman and Grain Valley,” White said. “Kennedy, Malia and I play on the same comp team, and last time, Malia (who drove in the winning run in the ninth inning) got us. For a while, it looked like she was going to get us again today, but my girls came back strong.”

Truman improved to 19-8 and 8-1 while coach Garrett Ogle’s Eagles fell to 20-4 and 7-1, suffering their first league loss. Truman is in Class 5 and Grain Valley is in Class 4, so the teams will not meet in district or postseason play.

“It was a great game, you have to give Truman a lot of credit,” Ogle said. “It looked good for us after Malia hit the home run, but Truman came back and got some big hits. Now, we hope to win our remaining conference games to see what happens.”

Grain Valley second baseman Malia Gutierrez slugs a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning in Tuesday's game against Truman. The homer gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead but Truman rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh and held on for a 4-2 win in a key Suburban Middle Six game.

Gutierrez and Hemme were disappointed but still willing to talk after the tough loss.

“We got them last time; they got us this time,” Gutierrez said. “I love Myel and Kenndey, but I still wish we would have won.”

Hemme, who matched White with 11 strikeouts, allowed just one hit before giving up three runs and four hits in the top of the seventh.

“It didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” Hemme said, “but it really was an exciting game. Now, we want to win the rest of our (regular season) games and be ready for district. It’s exciting to think about what we can accomplish.”

Truman shortstop Erynn Boatright makes a diving stop on a shot up the middle in Tuesday's game at Grain Valley. Truman rallied late for a 4-2 win.
Grain Valley pitcher Hailey Hemme throws to a Truman batter in Tuesday's game at Grain Valley. Hemme allowed just one hit and struck out 11 before the final inning, when the Patriots rallied with three runs on four hits to claim a 4-2 victory.