LEADWOOD – Thrilling walk-off hits are etched into the relatively brief but decorated history of the West County softball program, which includes five consecutive district titles.
Clearwater has often been a state playoff victim of the Lady Bulldogs, but turned the tables on Monday with one dramatic swing in a back-and-forth sectional contest.
Pitcher Rachel Rowold hammered a game-winning, two-run double in the bottom of the seventh inning, and lifted the Lady Tigers to a 5-4 triumph as the home team on a road diamond.
Two singles by No. 8 batter Emilee Chitwood paced the offense for Clearwater (17-8), which overcame a pair of defensive miscues that directly ushered three unearned runs.
Rowold struck out four in a game where both hurlers went the distance while allowing seven hits. But her loudest noise was made at the plate.
West County junior Ivy Meinershagen needed just one pitch to obtain the first out in the bottom of the seventh inning, but fell behind in the count 3-0 before walking Cheyanne Buxton.
Standout shortstop Halle Gooch was intentionally walked for a second instance once a wild pitch left first base open, and Brittany Adams coaxed a traditional free pass to load the bases.
Meinershagen challenged Rowold right away with a fragile 4-3 lead, but her first offering of the duel was driven well beyond right fielder Tristin Martin for the decisive blow.
Clearwater will host reigning state champion Strafford (26-0) on Saturday in an enormous test.
West County (18-5) ended its season in heartache just minutes after being filled with optimism, thanks to a go-ahead rally that snapped a 2-2 tie in the top of the sixth inning.
It began when freshman Megan Perkins beat out an innocent flare behind the circle for a two-out hit. She then advanced to second base on a wild pitch to the backstop.
Perkins scored when a throw to first was dropped, enabling Haylee Watson to reach safely. Courtesy runner Kyra Minton beat a late return throw as Makenzie Simily bluffed an attempted steal from first base to make it 4-2.
The Lady Tigers answered with their own two-out lightning as Amy Holmes doubled and scored on an RBI single by Chitwood before Meinershagen prevented further damage.
Meinershagen fanned five in the complete-game loss, and worked herself out of a mess after allowing consecutive singles to Chitwood and Makenna Black leadoff off the fifth.
A key strikeout of Burton made an intentional walk to Gooch possible, and Meinershagen got Adams to pop up a 3-2 pitch to shortstop Dori McRaven with the bases loaded.
Gooch and Adams sparked a productive fourth for Clearwater with singles, and Rowold notched her first of three RBI in the contest with a squeeze bunt for a 2-1 advantage.
Makenzy Simily highlighted her 2-for-3 day with a one-out double in response, and Madalyn Herrera slapped an infield hit before Meinershagen ripped a tying RBI double to right.
But the Lady Bulldogs missed a solid chance for a more prominent top of the fifth. Gooch made a diving play in the hole on a soft liner for the second out, and Rowold followed by inducing a key strikeout.
Meinershagen was 2-for-4 offensively, and reached on a throwing error from third base as the initial batter of the game. Jenna Simily singled her home for a 1-0 West County lead.
But Rowold singled, stole third base and crossed the dish on a second wild pitch in the second inning to draw the Lady Tigers even.
Martin will be the lone senior leaving the Lady Bulldogs, who inserted four freshmen into their starting lineup. Sophomore outfielder Hannah Myers was unable to play due to an injury.
Matt King is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at email@example.com