BY MIKE URSERY
The Fayette Lady Falcons (9-7) won a dramatic, back-and-forth game over the Sturgeon Lady Bulldogs in the championship game of the 2017 Fayette Softball Tournament at Cox Softball Complex on Sept. 16.
Sturgeon put together a rally late that tied the game 6-6. The game went into an eighth inning,where senior Sam Conrow drove in the go-ahead run. The Lady Falcons closed out Sturgeon in the bottom-half of the inning to seal the win.
Head coach Mike James said that his team displayed “toughness” during the game, and that this is something he and assistant coach Novy Foland II have emphasized during team practices.
“I think they’re finally starting to believe,” James said. “They’re starting to buy in. I think we’re starting to see it now, that we can come through in the big moments.”
The championship game certainly had plenty of big moments, especially near the end. Junior right fielder Bailey Chew made two big catches in the final inning.
On the first, she ran toward a fly ball hit to shallow right. She made the catch and collided with Conrow. Chew held on to the ball.
Chew ended the game by running down a fly ball hit in foul territory. She covered a lot of ground en route to the foul ball, but stretched out her arm and was able to capture it in her glove.
“What I like about our team is that, in the last four or five games, it’s not just one person,” James said. “It seems like it’s a collection of people that are stepping up in big moments.”
One of those big moments came in the top of the second inning. Fayette had the bases loaded with two outs, and junior third baseman Emma Hoover at the plate. With two strikes, Hoover swung at a pitch and sent a deep line drive to left field. The ball hit the ground and rolled to the fence. Hoover cleared the bases with an RBI-triple, giving Fayette a 3-1 lead.
Senior second baseman Sam Conrow added an RBI-single in the second. Fayette led 4-1.
Sturgeon threatened in the bottom of the third. The Lady Bulldogs opened the inning with three straight singles.
The next hitter was senior Emily Butyenek. She hit a grounder to second base.
Sam Conrow scooped up the grounder and tossed it to junior shortstop Skylar Garing. One run scored on the fielder’s choice, making the score 4-2.
Senior pitcher Kelly Hilgedick got the next two hitters to fly out. Fayette got out of the inning with minimal damage.
Sturgeon scored again in the bottom of the fourth. A single and a throwing error on a bunt put runners at the corners with one out.
Junior Emma Bright drove in a run on a fielder’s choice, making the score 4-3. Senior Rachel Guilford made it to third base from first. The next hitter was junior Lauren Mills.
Mills hit a solo home run in the bottom of the first inning. With a runner at third, she looked for another big knock. Instead, she hit a pop fly in the infield. Sam Conrow made the catch to end the inning.
The Lady Falcons put a little separation between themselves and Sturgeon in the top of the fifth. With runners at second and third, freshman Breanna Estes knocked in a run with a single, extending Fayette’s lead to 5-3.
Sturgeon threatened again in the bottom of the fifth. Two singles and an error allowed the Lady Bulldogs to load the bases with no outs.
The next hitter was sophomore Erin Mills, who hit a ground ball to Garing at shortstop. Garing threw home, forcing an out on the fielder’s choice.
Freshman Taylor Harris was the next hitter. She, too, hit a grounder to short. Garing threw home again, forcing another out.
The last hitter of the inning was senior Zoe Thomas. She hit a sharp grounder to third base. Hoover scooped up the ball and threw home. The Lady Falcons managed to get out of the inning without giving up a run.
Fayette added a run in the top of the sixth inning. Garing led off with an infield single. Senior centerfielder Mikela Howell was the next hitter in the lineup.
Howell laid down a bunt. Garing was already going for second when Howell’s bat made contact with the ball. Howell was thrown out at first, and Garing was on her way to third. The throw to third was offline, and Garing was able to score, making the score 6-3.
“What we were trying to do was get two bases for one out,” James said about the bunt-and-run. “They went ahead and threw trying to get her, and it trickled away. She was able to score. Sometimes, we’ll do that to see if we can put a little pressure on the defense, to see if they’ll make a mistake. Luckily for us, they made a mistake.”
The drama started to build in the bottom of the sixth inning. Bright hit a solo home run with one out in the inning, making the score 6-4. It was the Lady Bulldogs’ second home run of the game.
From there, the Lady Bulldogs hit back-to-back singles, putting runners at the corners. Butyenek hit into a fielder’s choice, allowing the run to score from third. The score was 6-5.
Mills was at the plate with two outs. She hit a ground ball back to the circle. Hilgedick made a low throw to first, too low for junior first baseman Jennifer Nelson. Butyenek was able to score from second, tying the game 6-6.
The Lady Falcons went ahead in the of the eighth. Hoover hit a single to right field with two outs. She then stole second. Sam Conrow was at the plate, and hit a hard grounder to right-center field. Hoover scored from second, putting Fayette ahead 7-6.
Chew and Sam Conrow collided while tracking a fly ball in shallow right in the bottom of the eighth. Chew made the catch before running into Conrow. Chew stayed on her feet and held onto the ball. Conrow laid on the ground momentarily, but got to her feet and appeared to be okay.
She scooped up a ground ball in the inning and made an easy throw to first for the second out of the inning.
The final hitter of the game was junior Katie Calvert. She hit a fly ball into right field that was veering foul. Chew ran down the ball and caught it with her outstretched glove to seal the win.
The Lady Falcons celebrated on the field. Hilgedick and sophomore catch Abbey Conrow met between the circle and home plate and hugged. Other players shouted and threw their arms up in celebration.
Fayette won games against Jamestown and Slater earlier in the day. The Lady Falcons defeated Jamestown 6-3, and then beat Slater 16-1 to win Group A.
The Lady Falcons returned to their regular season schedule with a game at South Callaway on Sept. 18, followed by a conference game at home against Paris.
Results for the Paris game were not available at press time.
The Lady Falcons play a road conference game at Marceline on Sept. 21. They return home on Sept. 25 to host Slater.
Fayette plays a road game against the Salisbury Lady Panthers on Sept. 26.
All games are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.