By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — Kickapoo and Rolla entered Wednesday’s clash boasting two of the area’s most prolific offenses.
With the Ozark Conference title on the line, both schools lived up to their respective billing.
The Lady Chiefs banged out 16 hits, four home runs and a 10-run inning en route to a 19-9, run-rule victory in the sixth inning.
While the final score indicated a lopsided result, the game was much closer with momentum bouncing back and forth between dugouts.
The Lady Chiefs struck first in the opening inning.
Following a leadoff bunt single from Megan Dancey, the Lady Chiefs capitalized on a pair of Rolla errors and extended the inning. Both Ellie Facklam and Jaden LeBarge collected RBIs as Kickapoo jumped out to a 3-0 lead.
Dancey, a sophomore second baseman, notched three hits and scored as many runs in the contest.
Kickapoo head coach Jason Howser was pleased to see his team find early success at the plate against Rolla’s formidable pitching staff.
“I liked our offensive approach coming out from the very beginning,” Howser said. “Megan Dancey has done a great job of setting the table, and then you’ve got a lot of good sticks behind her that command a lot of attention.”
While Rolla starter Jordan Watkins was able to work a 1-2-3 inning in the second, Kickapoo added two more runs in the third for a 5-0 advantage.
Despite the early deficit, Rolla wasn’t about to roll over.
The Lady Bulldogs found little breathing room in the first three innings against Kickapoo’s LeBarge in the circle; however, things began to click in the fourth.
LeBarge issued a pair of walks and a single to load the bases with nobody out, and then the floodgates opened.
Kassidy Chrisco’s sacrifice fly gave Rolla its first run, but the visitors were far from finished.
A pair of Kickapoo errors and a bases-loaded walk to Taylor Heimbaugh allowed the Lady Bulldogs three more runs and trimmed the deficit to a mere run at 5-4.4
Unfortunately for Rolla, the celebration was short-lived, as Kickapoo came storming back moments later in the bottom half of the inning with two monster hits.
Freshman Karli Facklam — hitting in the ninth spot — crushed a 1-2 pitch over the left-center fence to chase Watkins from the circle and kick off a 10-run Kickapoo inning.
Seven batters later, Maggie McKee crushed a first-pitch fastball over the fence and drove in three more runs for the Lady Chiefs.
The home run was a first for the junior center fielder, who was surprised to see the ball leave the yard.
“Honestly, I’m just thinking about getting on base and base hits,” McKee said. “I just wanted to hit the ball hard.”
Kickapoo strung together nine hits in the inning, which Howser attributed to the team’s plate discipline when behind in the count.
“One of the things they have bought into is two-strike approaches,” Howser said. “And we had that in that inning with several two-strike hits. Instead of taking the strikeout or something along the way, they shorten up their swing path to the ball to be competitive and extend innings for the big hits at the other end, as well. I know that was huge.”
While Kickapoo’s 10-run inning would prove to be a back-breaker, Rolla still wasn’t ready to concede.
Needing at least a pair of runs in the top of the fifth inning to continue playing, the Lady Bulldogs pulled off a second big rally with five.
Kiera Chrisco, Emalee Grooms and Lauren Moersch all drove in runs during the Rolla comeback to trim the Kickapoo lead to 15-8 and keep a sliver of hope alive.
Unfortunately for the Lady Bulldogs, Kickapoo continued to pound out hits.
Kenzie Walker hit a solo home run for the Lady Chiefs in the fifth inning to stretch the lead to 16-5.
In the sixth, LeBarge put the nail in the coffin with a 2-run bomb to end the game on a run-rule walkoff.
After getting pulled from the circle in the fifth inning, the game-ending home run was a fitting curtain call for the right-hander.
“It’s the last home game, got runners on base and we just need two or three more runs,” LeBarge said. “First pitch — if it’s mine — I’m going to swing at it. So, I saw the ball, waited on it and took it.”
LeBarge and McKee each drove in four runs to lead the Lady Chiefs.
Despite the loss, Rolla and head coach Jessika Zink praised her team for responding to the early struggles.
“You take out some silly errors there early in the game, and we came to life a little late,” Zink said. “But I’m really proud of the way that the girls battled and fought through some adversity.”
With districts approaching, Zink was hopeful the game would serve as a valuable teaching aid.
“We’ve got to clean up our defense and come to life, offensively,” Zink said. “We started out a little flat. It took us a little bit to kind of get things going. A great team like Kickapoo, you see the outcome — they took it and ran.”
Varsity Final: Kickapoo – 19, Rolla – 9
Rolla 0 0 0 4 5 0 — 0
Kickapoo 3 0 2 10 1 3 — 3
Hits: Rolla – 6, Kickapoo – 16
Errors: Rolla – 4, Kickapoo – 3
LOB: Rolla – 8, Kickapoo – 4
2B: Rolla (Kiera Chrisco – 1, Reagan Ready – 1), Kickapoo (Megan Dancey – 2, Chloe Merced – 1, Kenzie Walker – 1)
HR: Kickapoo (Jaden LeBarge – 1, Walker – 1, Maggie McKee – 1, Karli Facklam – 1)
RBI: Rolla (Kierra Chrisco – 2, Emalee Grooms – 1, Lauren Moersch – 1, Kassidy Chrisco – 1, Taylor Heimbaugh – 1), Kickapoo (LeBarge – 4, McKee – 4, Ellie Facklam – 2, Walker – 2, Dancy – 1, Merced – 1, K. Facklam – 1)
SB: Rolla (Kiera Chrisco – 2), Kickapoo (Dancey – 1, Merced – 1, E. Facklam – 1, LeBarge – 1, Kate Pierce – 1)
Jordan Watkins (3.00 IP, 1K, 4H, 1BB, 2HBP, 4ER)
Lauren Moersch (1.00 IP, 1K, 8H, 1BB, 6ER)
Sierra Spencer (1.67 IP, 4H, 4ER)
Jaden LeBarge (4.67 IP, 8K, 8H, 6BB, 1HBP, 7ER)
Ellie Facklam (1.33 IP, 1K, 0H, 1BB)
Time of game: 2:29