By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Katie Brooks planned to take at least one strike.
Key word: planned.
On a 2-0 count, Brooks got the pitch she wanted and did her thing.
“She’s up there to smash,” said Liberators coach Brian Thompson.
Brooks’ two-run homer in the third inning put Bolivar on the scoreboard first, and the Liberators’ tacked on four more runs to defeat School of the Osage 6-0 on Saturday afternoon in the Class 3 District 10 tournament title game.
“My gameplan was to go up there and take (pitches) until I got a strike,” said Brooks, a junior. “I took until I got two balls. I didn’t get the strike, but it was the pitch I wanted and I swung.
“I knew it was gone the second it hit my bat.”
With the win, Bolivar (23-6 overall) earns its second straight district title and fifth in program history.
Bolivar will play at Helias Catholic (22-5 overall) in Jefferson City on Oct. 23 for a Class 3 sectional matchup. The Crusaders beat Blair Oaks (20-6 overall) 1-0 on Saturday to win their district tournament.
Bolivar – a team of mostly juniors and sophomores – reached the Class 3 state quarterfinals last season.
“I feel like we have a bigger target on our backs this year,” said Bolivar catcher Apryl Zeno.
Leading 3-0 in the fourth inning, Bolivar got back-to-back RBI singles from Avery McClure and cleanup hitter Paige Severns.
The five-run lead was plenty of support for Brooks, who threw all seven innings and allowed four hits and three walks. She struck out 13.
According to Thompson, Brooks entered Saturday with around 230 strikeouts on the season.
When Brooks wasn’t striking out Osage hitters, the Bolivar defense stepped up behind her.
Third baseman Ashton Lynn erased an Osage scoring threat in the top of the third with the game still scoreless.
With a runner on first and no outs, Lynn caught a pop-up on a sacrifice bunt attempt then threw over to first for the tag-out and double play.
“I was just going to attack (their hitters) and I did that,” Brooks said. “I knew my defense would have my back behind me and they sure did.”
Thompson said Lynn also made a stellar defensive play on a bunt attempt in Thursday’s 10-0 (six innings) semifinal win over Buffalo. The play preserved a perfect game for Brooks.
“That’s what it takes,” Thompson said of the defense. “From this point on, you have to make plays like that and be committed. The thing is, we have a ton of girls who are committed to doing that.”
When Brooks struck out the final hitter to clinch the district title, she sprinted toward home plate for a celebratory hug with her close friend, Zeno.
“Throughout the years, we’ve become pretty much like sisters,” Brooks said. “We’re together 24-7, so our bond is really strong. We bring that bond onto the field and you can really tell it helps us.”
Helias Catholic, Bolivar’s next opponent, has won 19 or more games each season dating back to 2015. The Crusaders lost to eventual Class 3 state champion Mexico in their district tournament title game last season.
Before Saturday, Helias had lost in its district title game three straight seasons since making the final four in 2015.
Thompson said Helias’ ace pitcher – Lauren Howell, a senior who has committed to play at Arkansas and is a two-time all-state selection – recently returned from a month-long foot injury.
Howell or backup Alexa Rehmeier will throw against Bolivar.
“(Helias) is here for a reason, too,” Thompson said. “They can play some ball.”