By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Strafford, Mo. — Zoey Mullings and Hayley Frank delivered another pair of dominant performances for Strafford this season, as the Lady Indians cruised to a 9-0 victory over Thayer in the Class 1 state sectional round.
Mullings’ tossed a seven-inning, no-hit gem fueled by 17 strikeouts, zero hits and zero walks. Frank’s 3-for-4 effort at the plate provided a fitting bookend with two solo home runs and 3 RBIs.
The strikeout mark was a season-high for Mullings, a Drury basketball signee who cleared the 500-strikeout plateau in last week’s district final against Fair Grove.
While Mullings has been next to unhittable this season with an ERA hovering near the .78 mark, the senior right-hander is operating in another gear so far in the postseason. Through three starts and 15 innings of work, Mullings has posted a microscopic .47 ERA
Against Thayer, Mullings hammered home a steady combination of high fastballs and lethal change-ups to keep the Lady Bobcat hitters constantly off-balance.
“I just knew I needed to stay focused, hit my spots and do what I always do,” Mullings said. “I didn’t throw a whole lot of [rising] fastballs because I knew their weaknesses were the change-ups and high fastballs.”
Thayer leadoff hitter April Earls reached on an error during her first at-bat of the game. Some 17 batters later, sophomore pitcher Grace Johnson became only the second Lady Bobcat to reach base when she was hit by an errant Mullings change-up.
Strafford head coach Dale Bean praised Mullings’ ability to execute the team’s game plan and keep the basepaths clean.
“The high fastball, we saw early that it was one of those pitches,” Bean said. “Not just Thayer, but a lot of people can’t lay off that pitch and, today where she was throwing it, it looked like it was a strike. Nobody can really hit that pitch if you’re trying to swing at it, so that was a really effective pitch.”
Strafford’s bats went to work early, netting four runs in the first inning against Thayer’s Johnson.
A solo home run from Hayley Frank was followed a 2-RBI double from Presley Floyd, who then scored on an error.
After the rough initial inning, Johnson settled in and kept the Lady Indians off the scoreboard for the next three innings.
Despite the limited production, Bean welcomed the teaching opportunity.
“We had about three innings there where we didn’t get any runs,” Bean said. “It’s a good teaching point, because there’s not a whole lot of times where our girls go through those lulls. To get out of lulls, sometimes, it’s not hitting your way out of it. You’ve got to get some walks in there, be disciplined at the plate, make the pitcher work some more and, sometimes, those lulls will disappear.”
Strafford’s lulls disappeared in the fifth inning when Hayley Frank connected on her second bomb of the afternoon, clearing the left-center wall.
As was the case with her first home run, Frank simply waited for something down the middle she could turn on.
“[Johnson] didn’t have a change-up, really, or anything like that working for her,” Frank said. “Just had to wait on that good strike down the middle.”
Strafford’s dominance this season has presented few opportunities for close-game scenarios. The Lady Indians have outscored opponents by ten or more runs in 20 of 26 victories, and only Southwest, Mt. Vernon and Mountain Grove have kept the score within five runs.
“It’s something I talk about before any game,” Bean said. “Always be prepared. It doesn’t matter — one seed, 15 seed or anything like that. In this game, you can hit the ball hard at people, not catch some breaks, then have the other team catch a few breaks and, any given day, a team can win. If you play long enough, you can see, sometimes, that happens.”
Strafford (26-0) will travel to its quarterfinal matchup against Clearwater (17-8) on Saturday, May 12.
Strafford – 9, Thayer – 0
Thayer 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0
Strafford 4 0 0 0 1 4 x — 9
Hits: Thayer – 0, Strafford – 10
Errors: Thayer – 4, Strafford – 1
LOB: Thayer – 1, Strafford – 5
Zoey Mullings (7.00 IP, 17K, 0H, 0BB)
Grace Johnson (6.00 IP, 1K, 10H, 3BB)
Time of game: 1:20