Essary’s big game helps Forsyth beat Sparta in district title game


By Pat Dailey (For

FORSYTH — As helpless as Lindsey Essary felt a year ago, the Forsyth pitcher couldn’t have been much more helpful while leading the Lady Panthers to the Class 2 District 5 championship Tuesday.

Essary pitched a two-hit shutout and belted a two-run home run in fourth-seeded Forsyth’s 8-0 triumph versus sixth-seeded Sparta.

Last season in the Lady Panthers’ district final loss to the Lady Trojans, Essary was hitless while positioned at first base, thanks to lingering soreness in her throwing arm and shoulder.

“If I would do certain movements, I would have a sharp, stinging pain in my elbow and my shoulder blade and collarbone area,” Essary said. “I felt like I couldn’t do anything. I wish I could have helped more.

“But (no pain) anymore,” she added. “(Doctors) said I needed to stretch more. I’ve stretched a lot this year.”

Forsyth coach Jeff Walls was cautious while pitching Essary earlier this season due to her woes a year ago. He didn’t rely solely on his senior ace, opting to send Lauren Turner and Lili Roberts to the center circle on a rotation basis.

“We were afraid (Essary’s soreness) was going to happen again at the start of this season, so we kind of worked her in slowly,” Walls said. “That worked to our advantage. She’s had a lot of bullets left here at the end of the season when she needed them the most.”

It also worked to Forsyth’s advantage to have a trio of pitchers, with Essary throwing only one inning against Sparta in the teams’ two regular-season meetings.

“Maybe both,” Walls said when asked if it was strategy or a coincidence Essary hadn’t thrown much against Sparta. “When we were in our rotation with Lauren and Lili, it was their turn in the rotation (in games against Sparta).”

“I think it helped a lot,” Essary said. “They had seen Lauren and Lili. Pitchers are different, speeds are different and the movements of the ball are different.”

Essary consistently worked the outside corner of the plate Tuesday. She induced Sparta hitters to hit nine pop outs and eight groundouts while striking out two. The Lady Trojans had two baserunners doubled up on pop outs.

“She was masterful,” Walls said. “The last three games she’s hit her spots well and kept the batters off balance. She did a good job of competing for us. We’re happy for her and proud of her.”

“I pitched my heart out,” Essary said.

Sparta’s lone hits were singles by center fielder Mya Fulton, third baseman Addison Taylor and shortstop Averi Leyland.


Forsyth broke a scoreless tie in the third inning thanks to a two-out, two-run Sparta error.

The Lady Panthers made it 4-0 in the fourth, with second baseman Taylor Braden delivering an RBI double.

Braden, who had two hits, started the game by making a diving catch to her left of a line drive hit by Leyland.

“Taylor came up huge,” Walls said. “For the entire three-game (district) tournament, she was a different player. After she made that diving catch, we were saying, ‘She’s really turned herself into a second baseman.’”

In the fifth, Essary launched a two-run home run over the left-field fence.

It was Essary’s 15th homer on the season. She long ago smashed the Lady Panthers’ previous single-season home run record of six that was held by current Missouri State catcher Emily Shipman.

In contrast to Sparta hitters having seen Essary only one inning the past two seasons, Forsyth hitters saw Lady Trojans pitcher Addie Humble three games this season.

“That helped us a lot,” Essary said. “We worked a lot on hitting outside (pitches) because we knew that’s where she liked to throw.”

This was Forsyth’s third appearance in a district championship game over the past four seasons. It’s the Lady Panthers’ first district title since 2021.

“It’s very fun, very exciting and very emotional, as well,” Essary said of playing in a district final. “It’s a different vibe. For my focus, I was trying to zone everyone out and make sure my pitching was good and my hitting was there. I was trying to stay confident, but not being cocky.”

Forsyth (17-15) was three games below. 500 as recently as two weeks ago.

“I told them at that point they were right on the verge of turning the corner and being a good team, (but) they had to stop being so timid,” Walls said. “All through the lineup they had to quit being timid. I told them, ‘Let it go and just play.’ They’ve responded well.”

Forsyth advances to meet Diamond (35-1) in Sectionals.

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