By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
ANDERSON, Mo. – For three innings, the Liberators just needed to relax.
Playing in its first playoff game since 2014, a young Bolivar softball team found itself trailing on the road Wednesday at McDonald County in a Class 3 sectional.
But a run in the fourth inning helped turn the tide, and Bolivar broke the game open in the seventh on the way to a 6-3 victory at Mustang Field.
“Here’s the thing, once we break the scoreboard, we get on, we usually settle,” Bolivar coach Brian Thompson said.
“Once we got that first run on the board and we were in it, we were fine,” he said.
Still, the Liberators needed some clutch at-bats in the top of the seventh inning to win it. Sophomore Ashton Lynn broke a 2-2 tie when she sacrificed to left field with the bases load. Freshman Paige Severns doubled in two more runs, and freshman Apryl Zeno doubled to make it a 6-2 game.
The only drama in the bottom of the seventh was a leadoff walk to McDonald County freshman Madeline McCall, who later scored on a groundout. By then, Bolivar’s sophomore pitcher Katie Brooks was in command.
Brooks and the Liberators got off to a rocky start, however, by allowing two runs in the first inning. Two-straight singles scored the first run, and the second came after an infield error and a single to right. And the Mustangs stranded a runner at third.
McDonald County put runners at first and third with two outs in the bottom of the third, but Bolivar escaped when junior Chloe Calvin was tagged out in a rundown between third and home.
“As a player I never got nervous. As a coach I’m nervous all the time,” Thompson said. “When they got those two runs my concern was our age and maturity. Would we let it get to us? And we didn’t. We kept fighting.”
Freshman Jadyn Hamilton led off the Bolivar fourth with a single, and a Severns single and a Zeno walk loaded the bases for freshman Shae Smith, who grounded into a fielder’s choice at second. The throw went home but everybody was safe and Bolivar was on the scoreboard trailing 2-1.
“The first couple innings we were mad at each other,” Thompson said, “and sometimes that happens when you have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. The maturity side hasn’t come into it yet. They’re still a phenomenal group of girls. They play together, work together but they’re hard on each other and if somebody’s not getting it done they’re going to let each other know. It was getting to that point where it was finger pointing time and I told them you’ve got to back off, settle down. We do this as a team, win or lose we do this as a team.”
After tossing a one-hitter in the district championship last weekend, Brooks allowed four hits in the first three innings on Wednesday. But after the Liberators scored, she retired eight-straight batters, striking out five straight at one point.
A two-out single in the sixth was the only hit she allowed in the final four innings. She finished with eight strikeouts.
“A lot of the time Katie is very, very, very hard on herself,” Thompson said. “If the defense is struggling or we’re struggling at the plate she’ll shoulder it. That’s just the kind of kid she is. That’s why she’s verbally committed to Florida State. She’s going to do a job there. I don’t know that she’ll pitch, she may play middle infield or whatever but whatever her role is she’ll embrace it.”
Senior Carsyn Julien led off the top of the seventh with a single up the middle and Brooks followed with a single past third. Freshman Jadyn Hamilton drew a one-out walk to load the bases. That set the table for Lynn’s sacrifice to left to score the go-ahead run.
McDonald County coach Skyler Rawlins was left lamenting missed opportunities. The Mustangs had runners at the corners in the first but were thrown out stealing second to end the inning. They had runners at the corners in the third and again ran into the third out on the base paths.
“I think we left a couple more on there that we thought we should have got,” he said of scoring just two runs early. “But the tale of the night is execution. We didn’t play defense very well tonight. Offensively we thought we should have gotten some more somewhere. We left a few.”
“I think we jumped on some nerves there early,” he said. “We had some good at bats throughout we just never could find a way to get that little hit we needed here and there.”
McDonald County finishes the year with a 24-5 record. Bolivar improved to 21-6 and will play Sullivan on Saturday in the quarterfinals. Sullivan, 26-4, won 4-1 against St. Fancis Borgia on Wednesday.