Broncos power way into first softball state semifinal

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner
Lee's Summit North's Maddie Burton, center, celebrates with teammates Sydney Cure (5) and Kinsey Fiedler (27) as she crosses home plate after hitting a home run in a Class 5 state quarterfinal Thursday at Park Hill. The Broncos went on to an 11-5 win to advance to Saturday's state semifinal against Springfield Kickapoo.

A fast start helped lead the way to the first-ever showing in the state semifinals for Lee’s Summit North.

The No. 2-ranked team in the Missouri Fastpitch Coaches Association final regular-season poll hit a pair of early home runs and held on for an 11-5 victory over host Park Hill in a Class 5 state quarterfinal game Thursday.

The Broncos will play for a chance to play in the Class 5 title game on Saturday, when they host Springfield Kickapoo – the No. 3-ranked team – at 2 p.m. It will be the first semifinal berth for both teams and one will have a chance to play for the first Class 5 title awarded after MSHSAA added an additional class prior to this season.

The first home run came in the bottom of the first inning for the Broncos – who were the home team despite traveling. Kinsey Fiedler was hit by a pitch to open the inning but Kaylyn Jones got two quick outs for the Trojans (18-9).

With a 2-1 count, Maddie Burton hit a home run to center field to give the Broncos a lead they would not relinquish. A five run-second inning further expanded the advantage.

“I was thinking base hit and don’t strike out,” Burton, a senior said of her only hit in the win. “And then that happened. I think it set the tone for the entire game. There have been very close games the three years I have been on varsity, so coming out there and hitting is what we needed to do. We have strong hitters all the way through the lineup. Park Hill hits our pitcher very well and putting that many up really gave Cierra (Harrison) a cushion.”

Lee's Summit North's Kinsey Fiedler (27) celebrates after hitting a three-run homer as teammate Sydney McGee (3) waits at the plate to greet her in Thursday's Class 5 state quarterfinal. Fiedler and the Broncos claimed an 11-5 win to advance to Saturday's state semifinal.

Fiedler, who has committed to Washington, continued her torrid senior season, slugging a three-run homer to spark the five-run second. Her 17th home run of the season – which is the second-best single-season total in state history – made it 6-0 at the time.

Mayleigh McCoy had an RBI single to start the scoring and Halle Howes’ RBI single capped the big inning.

“We talked about not waiting until later to get something going – let's get something going at the beginning and that two-run bomb got it going,” Lee’s Summit North’s coach John Gage said after his team improved to 27-3. “And we kept hitting and kept scoring. We knew they had great scoring. Last time we played it was back-and-forth and back-and-forth. The girls had a game plan going in. (Jones) is a good pitcher. We just needed to hit her mistakes.”

Lee's Summit North's Halle Howes (19) rips a hit down the line in a Class 5 state quarterfinal against Park Hill Thursday. The Broncos claimed an 11-5 win to advance to Saturday's state semifinal.

The two Suburban Big Eight rivals split the season series with the Trojans, winning 4-2 on Sept. 15 and then the Broncos winning 6-5 on Oct. 1. That has been the outcome in recent years. Dating back to 2018, the Trojans and Broncos each had three wins each against each other heading into the showdown.

“They are way too good to fall behind 7-0,” Park Hill coach Jackie Qualls said. “It is hard to come back getting down early. We never could string together an inning. We could string together some decent innings where we score four or five runs this season, but C.C. (Harrison) is a good pitcher, so it is hard to string together many against her.”

The Trojans broke the shutout Harrison had going in the top of the fourth when Mya Lewis hit an RBI single, but a double play turned by Fiedler ended the inning as she stepped on second base and threw to McCoy to erase a two-on, one-out situation.

Mikayla Chairez doubled to open the fifth and later scored on a dropped third strike for the Trojans. A two-out walk followed, which led to a visit to the mound by North as slugger Grace Woods was at the plate with a chance to cut the deficit to as low as two with a home run.

Instead, Harrison coaxed a ground ball and escaped the threat.

Lee's Summit North pitcher Cierra Harrison throws to a Park Hill batter in the Broncos' Class 5 state quarterfinal game Thursday. Harrison improved to 21-2 on the season as the Broncos won 11-5 to advance to Saturday's state semifinal.

In the bottom of the third, the Broncos took advantage of a dropped third strike on Ella Wright. She reached and then McCoy doubled to bring her home. Fiedler had an RBI triple and then she scored on Sydney McGee’s single, which pushed the advantage to 10-2.

The final run for the Broncos came on Kelbi Miesenheimer’s sacrifice fly, which brought home Sydney Cure, who had doubled with one out.

Park Hill got a home run from Shelby Sanders in the final inning, but Harrison – who finished with eight strikeouts – got a pop-up to McCoy in foul territory to end the game and secure the Broncos’ biggest victory in program history so far.

Next up is a quest to reach the state title game, but with MSHSAA changes this year there will be no third-place game, so it’s literally, win or go-home in the semifinals.

Kickapoo enters with a 24-3 record and blasted Lee’s Summit West 11-1 in another quarterfinal game Thursday in Springfield. Both teams played the Titans twice this year and won both times, as Kickapoo beat West in a tournament earlier this year 4-2. The Broncos swept West 10-0 and 8-0 in Suburban Big Eight conference games.

This will be the third meeting between Kickapoo and North dating back a decade. In 2013 and 2016, North beat Kickapoo in the Springfield Invitational twice, winning 9-0 both times.

“We got a few people that played Kickapoo that said they will help me out,” Gage said. “It (the scouting report) won’t change how we play. We have to have good at-bats and don’t get ourselves out.”

Lee's Summit North's Ella Wright (24) celebrates after sliding into second base with a double in a Class 5 state quarterfinal game against Park Hill Thursday. The Broncos won 11-5.