Belting three home runs, the Sullivan softball Lady Eagles defended their Class 3 District 9 championship Saturday by beating Union, 10-4.
“We’re really excited,” said Sullivan Head Coach Ashley Crump. “The last time we played Union, it was a 5-4 finish, so we knew that we were going to have to get our bats alive especially in this cold weather.”
The power surge surprised Crump.
“I think we had three home runs all season, so to have three more today was awesome,” Crump said.
Sullivan (17-8) will visit Blair Oaks Wednesday in the sectional round.
“I think they beat Southern Boone, 3-2,” Crump said. “We know a little bit about them and how to prepare for them. We’re hoping to get another one under our belt and keep pushing into the postseason. We would like to make another run at state.”
The winner will face the winner of a sectional between Bolivar and Monett Saturday.
“At the beginning of the season, we had to move everyone around with the exception of Michala Martin,” Crump said. “She’s the only one still in the same place as last year. They’re really doing a nice job.”
Saturday’s win over Union at the Campbell-Chapman Sports Complex in Sullivan marked the second time this season the Lady Eagles beat Union (17-6).
“They’ve got some girls who understand what it takes,” Union Head Coach Bill Juengel said. “They come through when it counts. Give them some credit. That’s what they do.”
And Saturday’s district title game went a lot like the regular season game. Sullivan took a big lead and Union rallied in the final inning.
“The hole already was too deep,” Juengel said. “We had opportunities early on. We had runners on base during the first two innings and we just weren’t able to come up with the big hit. They did come up with the big hits. That was the difference in the game.”
Crump said Union took advantage in the final inning once again.
“They’re a seventh-inning hitting team and we’re a seventh-inning relax team,” Crump said. “I started to sweat, believe it or not, because it’s cold out here. We kept telling them they have a cushion and to take it one out at a time. Fortunately Tessa (Johanning) kicked it into gear and we made the plays.”
But Union’s rally wasn’t anything close to enough to knock off the Lady Eagles.
The game had been scheduled for Friday afternoon, but wet field conditions forced organizers to push it back to Saturday morning.
Despite the cold and cloudy morning, Union found its offense and threatened first.
Courtney Zweifel led off with a walk and moved to second on a bunt by Shelby Miller. But she was stranded in scoring position.
Sullivan scored in its half of the first inning. With two outs, Emmie Blankenship launched a shot over the center field fence.
The second inning went pretty much the same way. Union stranded a runner in scoring position while Sullivan came up with two more runs in its half of the inning.
Sarah Messex led off with a single and Halle Coats doubled her home. Coats took third as Union tried to throw to the plate.
Pinch runner Emily Alexander scored on a groundout by Aubrey Daniel to make it 3-0.
Union got one run back in the third. With one out, Zweifel reached on an error off the glove of the third baseman. She stole second, went to third on a single by Miller and scored on a Briana Lakebrink single.
However, Sullivan clamped down to force Union to strand two runners on base.
In Sullivan’s fourth, Messex led off with a walk and scored on a home run by Coats to center field.
This time, Union forced Sullivan to strand runners as the Lady Eagles left the bases loaded when the final out was recorded on a foul out.
After holding Union in the fifth, Sullivan added to its 5-1 lead in the bottom of that frame.
Michala Martin reached on an error and Messex walked. Coats drove Martin home with a single to center. Sierra Pryor reached on a fielders’ choice and then took second as Union declined to throw to stop the steal with a runner on third.
Daniel grounded out and Messex scored. Hedges then singled into right to bring Pryor to the plate to make it 8-1.
In the sixth, Messex belted a two-out, two-run home run to left field to bring in Blankenship and make it 10-1.
Union had its best offensive inning in the seventh.
Janna Ruether led off with a single and cross the plate on a pinch hit home run to left field by Victoria Fleming.
“She’s got a good swing,” Juengel said. “She can make the ball fly out there. She went up there and did a good job for us.”
Zweifel followed with a double and she scored on a single by Miller.
Miller moved to second on a passed ball, but Tessa Johanning settled down to retire the next three batters to seal the title.
Brooke Ruether, who is one of four seniors for Union, suffered the loss for the Lady ’Cats. Other seniors for Union are Emily Arens, Lakebrink and Karissa Peth.
“We’re going to miss those four seniors,” Juengel said. “We’ve got a number of girls coming back and hopefully they can continue to work on their game and get a little stronger while getting ready for next year.”
Juengel said there is room for improvement.
“There are a lot of teams in the state which would take the season we had,” said Juengel. “We still came up short from where we wanted to get. That’s the way it goes.”