Early runs, defensive stand help Kelly defend district softball title

Kelly players celebrate with the championship plaque after winning the MSHSAA Class 2 District 1 final Thursday night, Oct. 14, 2021, at Rains Field in Poplar Bluff, Mo.
DAR/Brian Rosener

POPLAR BLUFF — One dugout at Rains Field featured a team making its first district finals appearance since the spring of 2016, the other side had been here plenty of times before.

Still, there were nerves on both sides Thursday night.

“Right before we took the field we were like this is weird,” Kelly senior Kendyl Stuckey said. “We could tell our hearts were pumping. We all took a deep breath and we’re like ‘it’s fine, we’ve been here before, we can do it.’”

Kelly players celebrate after the final out to win the MSHSAA Class 2 District 1 championship game Thursday night, Oct. 14, 2021, at Rains Field in Poplar Bluff, Mo.
DAR/Brian Rosener

Kelly scored all of its runs in the first two innings to ease the jitters, escaped an early jam and claimed the MSHSAA Class 2 District 1 title with a 7-0 win over seventh-seeded Greenville.

Making their 10th straight finals appearance, the Hawks won the program’s 31st district title.

Kelly (16-15) will host the state quarterfinal Wednesday against the District 2 champion, which will be determined Saturday. Top-seeded Russellville (20-4) faces second-seeded Iberia (18-6), which lost to Kelly 8-7 in the quarterfinal last year.

“If we put a lot of pressure on them, they’re going to make errors and that’s what we like to do,” Kelly senior Elly Pattengil said. “Especially bunting, hitting — anything — stealing bases.”

That was on display against the Bears (9-10).

Greenville, which was seeking its first district title during the fall season, switched from the spring championship season where they won a title in 2016. The Bears knocked off second-seeded Chaffee 8-5 and third-seeded Hartville 14-5 to reach the final.

“They were the team to beat this week,” Kelly coach Melanie Heuring said. “They were aggressive, they were upbeat, they were on fire. They had a lot of grit and determination and they wanted it.

“We definitely played a good team today.”

The Hawks took advantage of defensive miscues by Greenville to score four runs in the bottom of the first, escaped a bases-loaded jam with nobody out and then added three more runs in the bottom of the second.

“I think the nerves got us the first few innings,” Greenville coach Barbara Adams said.

With one out in the first, Paiten Groves was hit by a pitch and went to third on Ava LeGrand’s double to the left-field gap. Blaire Riley placed a bunt down the line and the ball popped out of the first baseman’s glove as she attempted to sweep tag Riley as she ran past and both runners were able to score.

A throwing error then put runners at the corners for Pattengil, who bunted to the third baseman for a 3-0 lead. Kayleigh Holman beat a throw to first on a hit up the middle, allowing a fourth run to score, before a groundout ended the inning.

“It was real big,” Pattengil said. “Once we get ahead we get real pumped and I knew the other team was going to stay pumped up, so we got to get to them first.”

Greenville had a chance to answer in the top of the second when the first three batters reached. Makenzie Hill and Dakota Friley singled before Kayla Hill walked to load the bases.

“I knew we had a rock solid defense — that’s been our bread and butter all year,” said Stuckey, who added that her teammates showed each other confidence at that moment.

“We had that feeling that we were going to be fine.”

A fly ball to left was too shallow to score a run and a liner out to center field too fast for the runner to tag up. Lemonds then got a fly out to the second baseman to end the inning.

“That was awesome,” Heuring said. “We had two double plays today, our defense was flawless. I couldn’t ask for anything more from our defense.”

Kelly pitcher Mallory Lemonds struck out one hitter, walked three and allowed eight hits.

Madi Yount opened the second with a slap past the pitcher, Carlee Ray followed with another and both runners moved up a base on a throwing error. Paiten Groves pushed across a run with a bunt hit before consecutive RBI groundouts by Ava Legrand and Riley, who drove in three runs.

Laramie Blackburn and the Bears retired 12 of the next 14 hitters. The junior struck out two and allowed no runs and three hits over the final four innings.

Greenville had runners on base in each inning but Kelly ended the fourth and sixth with double plays.

The Bears were shut out for the first time in 10 games when they lost 10-0 at Kelly on Sept. 14.

“I thought we were going to break through and we didn’t get those key hits like we have the last few days,” Adams said.

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