By Pat Dailey (For OzarkSportsZone.com)
MARSHFIELD — When Bolivar shortstop Avery McClure was in grade school, teachers took note of her exceptional intellect and recommended she be moved up a grade. Thus, she’s now a 15-year-old junior, a full year younger than some of her classmates.
With that bit of background tidbit in mind, it’s no surprise she was dissecting her first two-bats Thursday to figure a route to success for her third plate appearance.
McClure learned her lessons well and belted a sixth-inning solo home run to lift Bolivar past Willard 1-0 in the Class 4 District 5 championship game. The win allowed the Lady Liberators to three-peat as district champs.
“I went to at-bat knowing (Willard pitcher Sydney Fletcher) was going to come inside on me,” McClure said. “So, I had to get my front foot down sooner to be able to turn on the pitch. Knowing that allowed to have the mindset of visualizing where the ball was going to be.”
Speaking of visualizing, McClure changed to an open stance this fall to help her keep both eyes on the ball. Upon stepping into the batter’s box, she turns so her entire body is facing the pitcher.
“I realized I wasn’t seeing the ball super well when I was starting sideways. I can’t see so well out of my left eye. It helps me to have both eyes on the ball,” McClure said. “I turn to face the pitcher so I can see the ball as far as I can before I swing. I watch a lot of college ball and saw a lot of girls do that at that level.”
The McClure-Fletcher matchup has been played out plenty the past three seasons.
“The game plan against Avery was to jam her up and if you miss one spot, you hope it doesn’t kill you,” Willard coach AshLeigh Williams said. “But that time it did. Avery seems to always get the best of Sydney. They both have one more year so they can go at it again next year.”
McClure and Fletcher know each other well. They were club ball teammates with the Midwest Batbusters over the past year.
“I love her. She’s such a great player and person,” McClure said. “I expected exactly what we got tonight, a great game. Sydney doesn’t make many mistakes. She just happened to leave that one a little far over the plate for me and I happened to take advantage of it.”
Fletcher and Bolivar pitcher Katie Brooks engaged in a pitcher’s duel. Through the first four innings, Willard (15-12) had just two baserunners and Bolivar only one.
“The way both pitchers were throwing, one run was all it was going to take to decide it,” Bolivar coach Brian Thompson said.
Thompson’s hometown of Dixon is also where Fletcher’s mother, Stacy, grew up. Thompson went to school with Sydney’s aunt and uncle.
“We’ve seen Sydney a lot over the years and I’ve kind of admired her from afar,” he said. “She’s not one to take lightly because she can throw the ball.”
Brooks was her usual dominant self. She finished with a two-hitter while striking out 13 and walking no one.
Brooks yielded only singles to Fletcher and third baseman Alyson Miller.
Bolivar managed just singles by Jadyn Hamilton and Karissa Rickman prior to McClure’s homer.
“(Fletcher) dug it out and I dug it out,” Brooks said. “She knew how to pitch to every hitter. She jammed Emmie (Hall) and I up. Some girls she got out outside. She was placing the ball and it was moving for her. I knew I had to move the ball with their good hitters or they were going to hit it.”
Bolivar (16-6) has won eight straight, after enduring quarantines that kept its entire team out for two weeks and an additional quarantine that kept Brooks from playing in the Springfield Tournament.
“We were scared it was going to ruin the rest of our season when we got quarantined,” Brooks said. “But we overcame it and worked out during our quarantine. I pitched every day during my quarantine. It was weird, though, I had to pitch to my dad. He can still catch me.”
Looking ahead to the Quarterfinal round next week, Bolivar will meet up against either Webb City and hard-throwing pitcher Haidyn Berry or McDonald County and hard-throwing pitcher Madeline McCall. They meet in the Class 5 District 6 final Friday.
Brooks extended an open invitation to her teammates to visit her house over the next week and take swings against her family’s pitching machine.
“I highly encourage that because McCall throws in the upper 60s and Berry in the lower 60s,” Brooks said. “They’re strong pitchers and we need to see speed.”