A striking finish: Harrison pitches Broncos into state championship
It was so cold at Lee’s Summit North High School Saturday afternoon, Cierra Harrison had a difficult time gripping the softball.
But that was nothing compared to the hard time the Springfield Kickapoo Chiefs had hitting it, as the junior sensation struck out nine of the first 10 batters she faced – and then struck out the side with the bases loaded in the sixth inning – to lead the Broncos into the Class 5 state championship game with a nail-biting 2-0 victory in the state semifinal.
The Broncos (28-3) will meet undefeated Columbia Rock Bridge (28-0) in the championship game at noon Thursday at Killian Softball Complex in Springfield after the Bruins beat Marquette 5-1 in Saturday’s other semifinal.
“It was cold, and I did everything I could to keep my hands warm, but it got cold out there in the sixth inning,” said Harrison, who improved to 23-2 and finished with 14 strikeouts, as she fanned the final two Bruins she faced in the seventh inning.
“But I knew I had to dig down deep and give it everything I had in that sixth inning. If they get a hit, who knows what happens. They might win the game or at least tie it up, and I didn’t want to let that happen.”
Kickapoo’s Maggie McKee was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, then Isabella Williams doubled her to third.
“I had to be so careful with the tying runs on second and third, so I just went after the next batter,” Harrison said.
She struck out Callie Muldoon, but Megan Dancy then laid down a perfect bunt. It was fielded by May McCoy, who made no throw to first, keeping the runner at third base.
“I was so hyper, so nervous, I couldn’t swallow,” said all-state shortstop Kinsey Fiedler, as she watched Harrison work her magic from the mound. “I knew Cierra was going to work out of the inning, but the way she did it was amazing.”
Harrison struck out leadoff hitter Taylor Akers and No. 2 hitter Katie Pierce to end the threat.
“That was Cierra at her best, her very best,” said Broncos coach John Gage, who had no idea his star pitcher had struck out the side in the first three innings. “I’m so busy keeping track of everything, I didn’t know she struck out the first nine. She’s pretty special. We’re not where we are without Cierra and a group of girls who always seem to find a way to win the big game.”
The game was a pitching gem for three innings as Harrison had nine strikeouts and Chiefs starter Ellie Facklam lived on offspeed stuff and a sterling defense.
The game finally turned in the bottom of the fourth inning as Maddie Burton singled, went to second on a walk to Logan Turner and scored on Ella Wright’s RBI single. McCoy followed with an RBI single to account for the Broncos’ two runs.
“Cierra pitches so much better when she has a lead,” Gage said. “She pitches great all the time, but you can see her pitch with a little more confidence with that lead.”
“That lead was great, it helped me relax a little bit out there,” Harrison said. “My girls always take care of me.”
While the first three hitters in the Broncos’ lineup went a combined 0-for-11 with a walk, it was the bottom part of the lineup that accounted for the two runs.
“We have so much faith in Cierra, we feel like if we score a run we’re going to win,” Wright said. “Today we got her two runs, so we really felt good.”