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Undaunted Harrison pitches Broncos past Wildcats into finals

By Bill Althaus
Lee's Summit North pitcher Cierra Harrison throws to a Blue Springs batter in their Class 5 District 7 semifinal Wednesday. Harrison allowed just two hits – one an Izzy Milligan line drive off the chest in the final inning – and struck out 14 to lead the Broncos to an 8-2 win. Harrison popped back up after the line drive hit her and finished the win.

For one heart-stopping moment, the chances for a long postseason run flashed before the eyes of Lee’s Summit North coach John Gage and senior shortstop Kinsey Fiedler.

A line drive off the bat of Blue Springs’ Izzy Miliigan had just struck Broncos junior pitcher Cierra Harrison in the upper body in the top of the seventh inning.

“I didn’t know where it hit Cierra,” Gage said after the Broncos defeated the Wildcats 8-2 to set the stage for Thursday’s 4 p.m. Class 5 District 7 championship game against Blue Springs South.

“When I saw her get hit, the whole season flashed before my eyes,” Gage added. “She’s such a competitor. When she told me she was OK, I had to leave her out there. It would have taken me and our whole team to drag her off the field.”

Lee's Summit North's Kinsey Fiedler glides into home plate to finish off a leadoff inside-the-park home run in as district semifinal win over Blue Springs. Fiedler has helped lead the Broncos to a 26-3 record and a Class 5 state quarterfinal appearance.

Blue Springs South (18-8) is seeking to become the first team in state history to go to the final four five years in a row when they face Harrison and the Broncos (25-3) in Thursday’s championship at Blue Springs High School. The past two years they have beaten the Broncos in district action and went on to claim back-to-back state titles.

Harrison, who has pitched two perfect games this season, had 14 strikeouts and allowed just one hit against the Wildcats before Milligan hit that sizzling line drive that caught Harrison in the chest.

“I kind of got my hand on the ball, and a little bit of my glove, and it hurt,” Harrison said. “It hit me on the left side of my chest. But there was no way I was leaving the game – no way!”

Harrison was given a few practice pitches before she returned to the circle. She followed with her first walk of the game, to Brooklyn Saysoff.

“It was just a walk,” Harrison said, “I wasn’t afraid I was going to get hit again. I just walked a batter – no big deal. Getting hit didn’t affect me.”

The next batter hit a soft fly to Fiedler at shortstop. After making the catch, the all-state shortstop attempted to pick off Milligan at second, and her throw sailed into right field.

“I was worried about Cierra – I mean, come on, the whole season flashed before my eyes,” she said, casting a quick wink at her teammate, “but that was just a bad throw. The umpire was kind of in my way, and as I threw I saw we had someone warming up in our bullpen.

“No one warms up in our bullpen when Cierra is pitching. That caught me a little off guard.”

One run scored on the error and the second scored on a wild pitch. 

In true Harrison form, she claimed strikeouts No. 13 and 14 to end the game.

She was immediately mobbed by her teammates on the mound.

Lee's Summit North's Ella Wright, left, is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run over the centerfield fence in the fourth inning of a Class 5 District 7 semifinal against Blue Springs. The Broncos went on to claim an 8-2 victory.

“We just heard (Blue Springs) South won, so it’s us and South for the third straight year,” Harrison said as she held an ice pack to her chest. “If anyone is wondering, I will be on the mound tomorrow.”

That brought a nod of approval from Fiedler and Gage.

Fiedler led the game off with an inside-the-park homer that sailed over the head of Makenna DeLany.

“Getting that first run helps me so much,” Harrison said, “it just gives me more confidence.”

After North scored three unearned runs in the third inning, Ella Wright hit a ball deep over the fence in centerfield to highlight the fourth inning and the Broncos added three runs in the sixth.

“They’re such a great team, and their pitcher is really amazing,” Blue Springs coach Anna Cole said through tears after her Wildcats put the finishing touches on an 11-17 season in her first year as head coach.

“When (Harrison) got hit I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! I hope she’s OK.’ And thank goodness she was. I was so proud of our girls all season. It’s tough to end with a loss, but we had so many great memories.”

Lee's Summit North runner Kinsey Fiedler is hit on the hand by the throw as Blue Springs' Kadence Shepherd attempts to catch the ball in Wednesday's Class 5 District 7 semifinal. Fiedler and the Broncos went on to claim an 8-2 win.