Patriots rally past Eagles in key league battle
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.”