By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
One of Class 3’s recent strongholds wasn’t ready to step aside for the up-and-comer just yet.
Sullivan, winners of four straight district titles and competing in the Class 3 quarterfinal round for the third straight year, outlasted a young Bolivar squad 7-4 on Saturday afternoon.
Bolivar finishes its season 21-7 overall. The Liberators’ starting lineup includes five freshmen and three sophomores.
“We’re still going to be young next year; we’re going to start juniors and sophomores,” said Bolivar coach Brian Thompson. “I got everything out of them I could get and they kept getting better every day.”
Bolivar, the visiting team on the scoreboard, rallied from an early 4-0 deficit by plating four runs in the top of the third.
But Sullivan came up with the game’s decisive play in the bottom of the fourth inning. Eagles pitcher Addison Purvis hit a two-out, two-run homer to give Sullivan a 6-4 lead.
Liberators center fielder Emme Hall nearly came up with a highlight catch on the play. Hall made a leaping catch attempt near the fence, but the ball bounced off her glove and over for a home run.
“If she doesn’t touch it, it’s off the fence and stays in,” Thompson said. “But Emme’s not that type of girl – she’s going to go all-out every play and try to get to every ball. It just seemed like there was an ejection button in her glove and (the ball) came right out.”
Sullivan (27-4 overall) faces Mexico (25-4 overall) in the Class 3 state semifinals at 10 a.m. next Friday at Killian Softball Complex in Springfield.
The Eagles were state runner-up in Class 3 two years ago. Several players from that team are still around as battled-tested juniors and seniors.
“They’ve been in big games and they know what pressure is,” said Sullivan coach Ashley Crump. “I feel like that was an advantage.
“Obviously, (Bolivar) had some advantages today: We’re on their field. We have a turf field at home. Great crowd. We thought maybe the only thing we had on them was experience.”
Sullivan scored four runs in the bottom of the second inning. Purvis, who finished with five RBIs, had a three-run double.
Sullivan tacked on an extra run when, on a pop-up in foul territory near first base, Bolivar left home plate uncovered and the Eagles runner on third base tagged up to score.
“My big concern today was handling the pressure,” Thompson said. “Early on, I don’t think we took care of it very well. I thought we were nervous.”
The Liberators answered in their next at-bat. Katie Brooks had an RBI double and Avery McClure followed with a 2-run double to make it 4-3.
Bolivar tied it 4-4 on an RBI groundout.
“It was the same thing that happened against McDonald County,” Thompson said. “Once we got on the board, we were in the game.”
Bolivar’s bats fell quiet the rest of the way. The Liberators only mustered two hits against Purvis over the final four innings.
In the circle, Purvis threw all seven innings and allowed seven hits while striking out 11 and walking two.
“(Purvis) goes out and works hard no matter what,” Crump said. “She really likes to hit her spots. She doesn’t just go out there and throw the ball. She wants to hit spots and strategically throw and that’s what she does.”
Bolivar and Sullivan met in a regular-season tournament earlier this season. Sullivan won, 1-0.
“We just looked at our hitting charts – how our kids hit and their kids hit – and just used that,” Crump said about scouting Bolivar. “They’re going to be a fabulous team coming down the road. I mean, they’re fabulous now.”
Thompson knows his returning players will have a productive offseason.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if several of them aren’t playing in a tournament somewhere (Sunday) or next weekend,” Thompson said. “They’ll keep working. Just because everyone’s back but one starter, they don’t expect to be good. They know they have to work and get better.”