By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
McDonald County’s softball team entered the season having appeared in four-straight district championship games. But the Mustangs had lost the last two, both to Webb City.
Against top-seeded Nevada on Thursday night, McDonald County wasn’t going to be denied.
The second seed Mustangs plated four runs in the first inning and junior pitcher Nevaeh Dodson kept the Tigers in check as McDonald County earned an 8-3 win in the Class 4 District 7 title game at Webb City.
It’s the school’s third district championship in the last five years.
“It’s huge,” said head coach Heath Alumbaugh. “Honestly we talk about it any time we step on the field. That’s our expectation within the program and that’s the community’s expectation of our program. To be able to do that after being there in the last two and being upset, monkey off our back right there. Great job of these girls coming out fighting and getting it done.”
The Mustangs (23-9) couldn’t have started much better. Dodson led off and reached on a throwing error, then scored when Carlee Cooper singled to left field. Jacie Frencken and Katelynn Townsend followed with back-to-back home runs to center field, and McDonald County had a 4-0 lead before the first out was recorded.
The Mustangs even left the bases loaded when the inning ended. But the early runs would prove enough.
“Absolutely huge,” Alumbaugh said. “Take control of the game early. We talked about that with our approaches today. We wanted to attack early on, see if we could get something done early. I think putting up the four spot in the first inning, when you can do that and control the tempo of the game, that’s huge.”
Cooper doubled to lead off the second and advanced to third on a single by Frencken. She scored on a dropped third strike to make it 5-0.
Dodson, meanwhile, retired Nevada (24-12) in order in the first and struck out the side, with one walk, in the second.
But the Tigers, who have also won three district titles in five years, made some noise in the third inning. Kaleiah Johnson and Caylee Holcomb both singled and advanced to second and third on a wild pitch. They both scored when Kirstin Buck doubled to left, and then Ella Heathman followed with a double to center to make it a 5-3 game.
The Mustangs had an immediate answer. Again, the leadoff hitter (Cooper) reached on an error. Townsend singled and then Reagan Myrick eventually scored both with a double to left. Myrick then scored on a wild throw to third base later in the inning and McDonald County had its five-run lead back in a hurry.
“We’ve been preaching to them the last two weeks there’s going to be ups and downs,” Alumbaugh said. “People are going to give you their best shot. When you’re down you’re going to have to find a way to just battle and get out of it and then come back and answer right back. Our girls did that tonight.”
Dodson allowed a single in the fourth but racked up two more strikeouts. Nevada got a runner to second in the fifth, and had runners at second and third with two outs in the sixth but couldn’t get another run across.
“They’re a good team,” Nevada coach Danny Penn said. “Their record, their program speaks to that and they just jumped and grabbed that momentum from the start. Scoring four in the first, especially after starting with a defensive error, it was hard for us to catch our breath and get back to playing softball the way we’re able to. Credit to them. Proud of how we responded in the third, put three runs up and made it a game but they were just the better team tonight.”
“Offensively they were swinging the bat to do damage early in counts,” Penn said. “Back-to-back homers in the first inning spoke to that. Two very good swings on pitches that just missed on the middle of the plate and they continued to do that most of the game. I think mentally they just played a smarter game than we did. We made two or three mental mistakes that allowed innings to be prolonged and they took advantage of that and scored more runs in those innings. Again I just think the better team won tonight.”
McDonald County advances to face the District 8 champion on Oct. 19 in the quarterfinal round. Top seed Kearney (22-8) and third seed Platte County (13-13) are set to face off for that title on Saturday.