By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Republic, Mo. — Republic head coach Lee Dishman played a hunch Monday afternoon.
With two big conference games looming for the Lady Tigers this week, Dishman sent Mara Lakey — his No. 3 pitcher — to the circle against Bolivar.
The hunch paid off.
The sophomore left-hander threw seven solid innings and helped lead Republic to an 8-4 victory.
Dishman was quick to praise his young pitcher’s performance against a dangerous Bolivar lineup.
“Mara’s shown some bright spots, but she’s also had some struggles finding the zone,” Dishman said. “Today, she just commanded the zone and pounded the zone. She just had a presence in the circle, and the team rallied behind her.”
Utilizing an effective fastball-changeup combination, Lakey was able to consistently find the corners and keep the Lady Liberator hitters off-balance throughout the game.
Still … it took some time before she was able to find her bearings in the circle.
“At first I was really scared and nervous,” Lakey said. “But then I realized I just needed to do my part for us to get a win. My job was just to not throw it flat over the plate. If I could even get it inside or outside, it would easily make it a pop-up or grounder — anything like that.”
While Lakey surrendered a quartet of hits in the first inning, Jadyn Hamilton’s RBI single to score Katie Brooks turned out to be Bolivar’s lone run.
Despite the early deficit, Republic didn’t wait long to answer.
In the bottom half of the inning, A.J. Fenske launched a deep ball over the right-centerfield fence to drive in three runs and put the Lady Tigers up 3-1.
Behind in the count against one of the area’s top pitchers in Brooks, Fenske tried to remain calm at the plate prior to her big hit.
“I got in there, and I had two strikes on me,” Fenske said. “I knew right there we had to get these runs … as long as I can get a pop-up to the outfield. I hit it, and I was, like, that’s a pop-up to the outfield — I did my job. Then the wind took it, and it was a home run. It was such a great feeling.”
Bolivar battled back in the top of the fifth to tie the game at 3-3.
Following a leadoff double from Shae Smith, the Lady Liberators scored back-to-back runs on an error and an Avery McClure RBI single.
Once again, Republic wasted little time delivering a response.
With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Megan Weis blasted a two-run triple into left-center to recapture the lead for the Lady Tigers, scoring both Kaitlin Ragsdale and Jaden Gibbs.
Weis, a senior outfielder, knew she might have an opportunity early in the count.
“I just knew I needed to score the runs with people on base,” Weis said. “I told myself I was going to go hit that first pitch. [Brooks] had been throwing first-pitch strikes almost 90 percent of the game, so I was just going to go for it.”
Dishman was pleased to see adjustments pay off for the Lady Tigers during the late innings.
“We kind of went through a lull as hitters,” Dishman said. “But we made adjustments and we started having more quality at-bats and putting the ball in play. It’s a team effort throughout our lineup. Offensively, I thought we did a lot of good things against a quality pitcher.”
While Bolivar was able to plate a final run in the sixth inning on an error, Republic had yet another immediate answer in the bottom half, this time with three more runs to seal the victory.
After the game, Lady Liberators head coach Brian Thompson was quick to take responsibility for the loss. Thompson attributed the result to several poor pitch calls and not looking at Republic’s upcoming schedule closely enough while preparing to face its No. 1 in the circle.
“I didn’t have our girls prepared the way I should have for today,” Thompson said. “Basically, I told them, ‘This game is on me.’”
Despite the result, Thompson was pleased with his team’s effort and ability to battle through adversity multiple times over the course of the contest.
“The score, in my opinion, was not indicative of how well we played at times,” Thompson said. “There are times when we made a few mistakes, but I don’t think our mistakes cost us today at all. I just don’t think we hit the ball as well as we should have, and that’s an adjustment we’ve been trying to make all year.”
Both teams are back in action on Wednesday. Republic (12-5) hosts Nixa, while Bolivar (14-5) welcomes Osage to town.
Varsity Final: Republic – 8, Bolivar – 4
Bolivar 1 0 0 0 2 1 0 — 4
Republic 3 0 0 0 2 3 x — 8
Hits: Bolivar – 8, Republic – 8
Errors: Bolivar – 1, Republic – 2
LOB: Bolivar – 6, Republic – 2
2B: Bolivar (Shae Smith – 2)
3B: Republic (Megan Weis – 1)
HR: Republic (A.J. Fenske – 1)
RBI: Bolivar (Avery McClure – 1, Jadyn Hamilton – 1), Republic (Fenske – 3, Weis – 2, Kaitlin Ragsdale – 2, Emma White – 1)
SB: Republic (Ragsdale – 2)
Katie Brooks (6.00 IP, 9K, 8H, 1BB, 1HBP, 6ER)
Mara Lakey (7.00 IP, 5K, 8H, 1BB, 2ER)
Time of game: 1:30