The two-time consecutive state champion Lady Indians softball team lost their post-season streak on Thursday after falling 4-6 to the Pleasant Hope Pirates in the Class 1 District 8 title game at Strafford.
The Strafford girls have largely lived or died on the power of their bats this season, and that proved true in the district tournament last week, in which the Indians cleared both the quarter and semi-final games with 16 runs, but couldn’t manage a single score until the final inning of their loss to Pleasant Hope.
It’s a pattern that mirrors two earlier games between the two teams, both of which went the Pirates’ way. Early in the season, Pleasant Hope demolished Strafford in a 11-1 mercy-rule victory, and later they eked out a 2-1 extra-inning victory in the much tighter championship match of the Ash Grove tournament.
In Thursday’s district final, the Lady Pirates steadily placed two runs in the first, third and sixth innings, but most importantly, kept the Indians’ bats quiet to go up 6-0 after the bottom of the sixth.
Strafford head coach Dale Bean admitted he was taken off-guard by his team’s lack of offensive production this time.
“We’ve played 20 innings with this team, and I was very confident,” said Bean after the game. “We did not hit well the last two times we played them, but I was just thinking we were kind of in an early-season funk.”
The Pirates proved otherwise, staunching a Strafford offense that has put up a dozen double-digit scores over the course of the season.
“You’ve got to give credit to Jaydin [Pirates pitcher Jaydin Lee] — she did what she was supposed to do,” Bean said, also acknowledging the role the evening’s heavy winds played. “Granted, the wind was a factor early with some of our hits. Their defense made some great plays in the outfield, and the wind knocked some balls down that would have been hits, but the game is what it is.”
If there was a silver lining, it came in the final inning, when the Strafford girls, their backs against the wall, finally returned to hitting form.
Junior first baseman Taylor Dormann got the ball rolling by reaching first on a Pleasant Hope error in the first at-bat of the inning, and junior Kaitlyn Vote followed up with a ground single. A Hayley Frank right field shot loaded the bases, and junior Logan Jones then cracked a line drive to move in Dormann and Vote.
“I think they finally got out of their own heads and knew that, ‘Hey, we just got to go hit it and stop thinking about it,’” Bean assessed. “We hit the ball hard four or five times that inning, and I was expecting them to do that every inning throughout the game, but we just didn’t. Too many lazy fly balls just killed us.”
Though the next two batters, freshman Emma Mullings and junior Emma Johnson, each notched an RBI, the Strafford comeback would stop there, and ultimately, one strong inning would not be enough to climb out of the hole that the Pirates had placed them in.
The loss put an end to a two-year streak of state tournament victories for the Indians and marks the culmination of many of the girls’ high school careers, including those of designated hitters Paige Danielson and Maria Comstock and all-state sisters Kayley and Hayley Frank.
“It was a great four years, and we were really successful and had a really fun time,” said Kayley Frank. “It was fun while it lasted, but nothing lasts forever.”