PARK HILLS – Central head softball coach Bryan Wallen fondly recalls the moment his high school baseball team celebrated a trip to the state final four on its home field.
On an nearby diamond Thursday afternoon at the Park Hills Sports Complex, he anxiously watched as daughter Kimmy and the Lady Rebels achieved an identical reward.
Central will culminate its inaugural season of spring softball where every contender aspires to be after defeating Kennett 7-2 in a Class 1 state quarterfinal contest.
“I told the girls the other day that one of my greatest memories from high school was winning a quarterfinal game here as a player,” Coach Wallen said. “Just knowing that you get to be part of that atmosphere is a really big deal, and now they get to experience that.”
Central (21-3) advanced to face Adrian (23-5) in the first state semifinal on Friday, May 18, at Killian Softball Complex in Springfield, Mo. after notching its 19th victory in 20 games.
Seniors Caitlyn Holmes and Karissa Belfield provided crucial hits, and were involved in helping the Lady Rebels dent the scoreboard twice in the opening frame.
Belfield registered a single and stolen base before Sophia Horton walked and took second without a challenge. Holmes brought in both with a two-out single to left-center field.
“She tried to work outside and then jam me inside,” said Holmes, whose two home runs powered a dominant sectional victory over Malden on Monday. “I was a little nervous going up there in such a big game, but as soon as I got the hit on that outside pitch, I loved it.”
Kimmy Wallen made the early lead stick with seven stellar innings from the circle. The all-state junior compiled 14 strikeouts and came within one out of recording another playoff shutout.
She retired 20 of the first 22 Kennett batters – surrendering only a double and single to No. 2 hitter Kayton Harris during that span – all while not being hampered by recurring back pain.
But the Indians were afforded extra life when a pop fly was dropped in foul territory, and proceeded to string together five consecutive hits with their season at stake.
Sydni McAtee and Whitnee Duncan connected for back-to-back doubles, and singles by pitcher Emily Johnson, Addalyn Nelson and Katie Hurst suddenly put the potential tying run on deck.
Wallen would slam the door, however, as Meagan Pickens squared to bunt and offered at a high pitch before an appeal confirmed the final out.
“She spun the ball really well and hit her spots,” Coach Wallen said. “We had a plan to work out and up on them, then mix things up more with a couple of their kids. When you can call a game from the dugout and almost every pitch is there, that makes it easier to coach.”
Johnson struck out two and rolled through 11 of the next 12 Lady Rebels following Holmes’ clutch hit. But Central would resume scoring with two runs in the fifth.
Wallen drew a two-out walk before stealing second, and came home on an errant and more difficult throw to third by the catcher after Belfield chased a skipped third strike.
Jessica Hulsey made it 4-0 with a sharp single to right-center, and freshman classmate Horton legged out an infield hit to extend the inning.
“We were hitting the ball in the air and not making very good adjustments for a while.” Coach Wallen said. “I wasn’t real disappointed that we would be the visiting team once we lost the coin toss, because I thought we might be a little more composed by starting on offense. Fortunately, we were able to put a couple of runs on the board right away.”
The Lady Rebels continued to apply pressure with their bats in the top of the sixth. Kerston Furry walked and Aubree Eaton took an inside pitch off the back to spark an eventual three-run rally.
Maddie Manion and Chloe Coppedge provided RBI ground outs, and Belfield capped her 2-for-3 effort with an RBI double to drive in Wallen.
“We knew that this team was going to produce something special this year,” said Belfield, whose name appears on the 2015 state championship banner won by the Central girls basketball team. “We didn’t quite know how far we could make it, but it feels pretty good.”
Kennett (16-10) was without the services of injured senior Madi Parr, who pitched her squad to a state championship as a freshman.
Wallen opened the bottom of the seventh by winning a 10-pitch duel against Harris, who had made solid contact in two previous plate appearances.
“I certainly didn’t think that I would strike out 14 today, but my curve base was really working and my rise ball was good,” Wallen said.
The Lady Rebels shifted their entire outfield forward to the infield dirt during at-bats by Pickens, who Wallen fanned three times following her initial line out to Hulsey at second base.
Chloe Coppedge added a single for Central as both teams tallied seven hits. Wallen did not issue a walk.
“I’m really excited to go to state, especially in softball,” Holmes said. “I get to play with the people I love for sure.”
Matt King is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org