By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — Strafford’s gaudy win streak hit 51 Saturday, as the Indians capped off a second-straight Class 1 state softball championship with a 3-0 victory over Central (Park Hills).
Less than 24 hours after Hayley Frank’s solo home run propelled Strafford into the title game over Liberal in the semifinal round, sister Kayley showed there’s more than one Frank in the household with a flair for the dramatic.
The junior catcher drove home Strafford’s first run of the game in the fourth inning with a two-out single, scoring Alissa Collette from third.
The run turned out to be all Strafford would need, as the Rebels were held to a two-hit shutout.
“I just wanted to put the bat on the ball,” Kayley Frank said. “I knew a base hit scored, so I just had to have confidence going up there, and that’s what I did. I’m just glad I didn’t strike out, and that was my main goal — just put the ball in play.”
While her microscopic .64 ERA, Strafford pitcher Zoey Mullings doesn’t usually need more than a run to lock the game up; however, the senior right-hander helped her own cause in the sixth inning.
After Kaitlyn Vote and Hayley Frank each reached on singles, Mullings laced a ball up the middle to plate both runners and break a tight game wide open.
“I was struggling so hard this whole weekend,” Mullings said. “I didn’t even hit it that hard, but it just kind of got in the gap, and it felt so good to actually get on the base and get a hit. Getting those two runs in just changed the ball game.”
With a three-run cushion, Mullings headed out to the circle in the seventh needing just three outs to close out a storybook career.
Teammates Emma Johnson and Kaitlyn Vote made spotted Mullings the first two and did so with some flashy glove work.
After Johnson chased down a foul ball from first to snag out number one, Vote made a spectacular, diving play in right field for the second.
“I knew that this was the last inning if I caught that ball,” Vote said. “I was running toward it, and I was like, “This has to be caught; I have to get it,’ so I just dove and stuck my glove out there to catch it. It felt amazing.”
With an undefeated season only one out away, Mullings then did Mullings-like things and struck out the final batter of her high school career.
Following the final out, Mullings and fellow seniors Alicia Collette and Presley Floyd became swept up in the moment, realizing they had just written a storybook ending to their respective high school careers.
With a late lead, Mullings was, once again, able to put even more pressure on opposing hitters with an increased tempo and rapid-fire delivery.”
“We had so much confidence,” Mullings said. “I was feeling good, my defense was feeling good … it was just good.”
For Collette, the final inning marked a blur of excitement.
“The first game I was really nervous,” Collette said. “But this game I was really comfortable. I mean, we’ve been here before, and we had that experience aspect, so that was kind of nice. In the last inning, it felt like — I don’t know — but we were good to go.”
As Strafford received its post-game medals, Floyd simply stared off into space completely lost in thought.
“I just can’t wait for the next step,” Floyd said. “I was just up there just battling it off, and I knew that it was my last time, so I was really, well … that was my last time.”
For Strafford head coach Dale Bean, the championship wraps up a perfect season, but it also closes another chapter for his senior group.
“I just love them to death,” Bean said. “I was thinking about it a little bit, but it’s going to suck not to see their faces at practice any more. I can’t wait to see them when they come back around, because they’ll always have a special place in my heart.”
Strafford finishes its season boasting a 28-0 record as the Class 1 state softball champions.
Strafford – 3, Central (Park Hills) – 0
Central 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0
Strafford 0 0 0 1 2 0 x — 3
Hits: Park Hills – 2, Strafford – 7
Errors: Park Hills – 1, Strafford – 3
LOB: Park Hills – 5, Strafford – 5
Zoey Mullings (7.00 IP, 5K, 2H, 1BB)
Kimmie Wallen (6.00 IP, 4K, 7H, 1BB)
Time of game: 1:15