By Jeff Kessinger (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For the second time in as many games, top seed Kickapoo found itself trailing with six outs to go. And, for the second time in as many games, the top seed found a little sixth inning magic.
Senior pitcher Ellie Facklam mashed a two-run home run to right field to give KHS a 3-2 win over Carthage in the Class 5 District 6 Championship game. It’s the second straight district title for Kickapoo.
“We shouldn’t wait this long to do it, but we get it done,” Facklam said. “I think that’s going to be important going into the next game, starting out strong and adding more and more each inning. It’s just an unbelievable feeling. We worked so hard this season to be in this moment and win a district championship.”
Chloe Merced started the game-winning rally with a lead-off double to the fence in right. It was sweet redemption for the senior first baseman.
“It’s easy for me to get down on myself and I didn’t have the at-bats that I’d wanted” she said. “I went into the box with the mentality that I’m better than the pitcher and I’m going to get a hit. I was looking for a line drive, looking for a pitch that I could put a good swing on.”
She got it. Then, with one out, it was Facklam’s turn. She was also 0-for-2, but that didn’t dent her confidence.
“I knew I was going to get a hit,” Facklam said. “I knew it was up to me.”
She didn’t throw away her shot. Facklam got all of a 2-1 pitch for a no-doubter that electrified the Kickapoo dugout.
“I knew (Merced) was scoring no matter what, but it felt really good off my bat,” Facklam said.
Carthage had a chance to tie the game in the top of the seventh. Mary Richmond led off the inning with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Landry Cochran. She wouldn’t go any further. Facklam struck out Katie Crowe and induced a groundout to end the game.
“(Facklam) didn’t have her best stuff early, but she kept throwing punches and she kept competing,” Kickapoo coach Jason Howser said. “Later in the game she was able to spot her change up and throw her other pitches where she wanted them at crucial times. … She never complains, never says anything. She just works. I’m very happy she got that moment with all of her hard work paying off. She’s got great composure and just competes.”
Facklam allowed just two runs on six hits, striking out two, to get the win. Jensyn Elder took the loss for Carthage despite a strong outing. The junior gave up three runs on five hits with six strikeouts.
“(Carthage) is fundamentally sound, very well coached and their pitcher is extremely good,” Howser said. “They deserve a lot of credit.”
Sixth inning heroics are nothing new for Kickapoo. KHS trailed fourth seed Nixa 5-1 going into the home half of the sixth Wednesday night. But the Eagles committed five errors and Kickapoo rapped out four hits to plate six runs and earn a 7-5 win.
“Obviously the sixth inning is pretty lucky for us,” Merced said. “Maybe six is our lucky number.”
It wasn’t all luck, though. Kickapoo had cruised through the season, winning several lopsided games on its way to a 21-3 record. Clearly, the talent is there.
“As a coaching staff we were very concerned about what happens when we have to play close games that mean something,” Howser said. “It took the district tournament to find out.”
Taylor Akers started the scoring for Kickapoo, legging out an infield hit in the bottom of the first. Kate Pierce followed with a double to right for a 1-0 lead. That lead didn’t last long.
Carthage scored a pair of runs in the top of the second, taking advantage of a pair of Kickapoo errors. Makayla Jennings and Presley Probert hit back-to-back singles to get the rally going. Jennings scored on a single by Jordyn Jones and Probert crossed the plate when Jensyn Elder reached on an error.
It could’ve been worse, as Carthage had the bases loaded with one out. Kickapoo locked it down defensively, getting a force out at home and a pop-up to end the threat.
“This team has a lot of fight,” Merced said. “I’m so proud of everyone. We do not give up. It doesn’t matter if we get hit, we hit times right back and we fight to the very end.”
Now it’s on to the Class 5 Quarterfinals. Kickapoo will host Lee’s Summit West Oct. 22. West defeated Helias Catholic 6-4 in the District 5 title game.
“It’s all of us. It’s the girls coming off the bench and the girls in the dugout as well,” Howser said. “They compete as a team, they win and lose as a team. They’ve bought into that concept and, as a coaching staff, it’s easy for us because of the way they compete.”