CHAFFEE, Mo. – Fundamental mistakes put the West County softball team in an early deficit Thursday, and excellent work from opposing pitcher Alyssa Tidwell prevented any reversal of fortunes.
The Lady Bulldogs struggled to square up consistently against the senior left-hander, who twirled a four-hit shutout and helped second-seeded Kelly claim the Class 2, District 2 championship.
Shortstop Lilly Jones went 3-for-4 from the leadoff spot, first baseman Kelly Ivy had a double and single, and the Lady Hawks prevailed 4-0 on a neutral field at Frisco Park.
The fifth-seeded Lady Bulldogs committed three defensive errors, lost two runners on the base paths, and finished 0-for-6 at the plate with teammates in scoring position.
The performance was a diametric contrast to their 2-1 semifinal upset one day earlier against top seed Chaffee behind the stellar pitching of senior ace Ivy Meinershagen.
Kelly (15-8) produced four consecutive hits in the bottom of the first inning, including three that never left the infield. Two of them were either misread or completely unseen in the bright setting sun.
Freshman catcher Kaelin Hedgcorth caught Jones stealing on a perfect throw, but Tidwell helped her own cause with a slicing double to right field.
Alaney Moore rounded third base and momentarily halted her progress, but alertly sprinted home safely as the West County defense held the ball far too long near the outfield grass.
Allee Drennen looked to ignite a response for West County (7-12) with her leadoff single in the second, but failed to slide and was narrowly tagged out at home on a ground ball after an error had put runners at the corners.
Tidwell caught another break after Makenzie Simily rifled a leadoff double to left-center in the fourth, but was unable to return in time after straying more than halfway to third base on an ensuing infield fly.
The struggles of West County were further compounded in the field. Jones advanced from first to third on a Moore sacrifice, and kept running home when nobody covered the return throw in the third inning.
The Hawks extended their 2-0 advantage in the fourth on RBI singles by Kimberly Seabaugh and Jones after Madeline Hughes grounded a leadoff hit through the middle.
Tidwell notched five strikeouts while issuing no walks, and retired each of her last nine batters faced while escaping her most serious trouble in the fifth.
Hedgcorth singled to right, and courtesy runner Claire Stevens moved to third when Haylee Watson smashed a double into the left-field corner with no outs.
Tidwell protected her shutout bid against the bottom of the West County order, however, after sandwiching two called strikeouts around a bunt that she caught in the circle.
Meinershagen made all three defensive plays during the home half of the sixth, and avoided further damage in the fourth when left fielder Hannah Myers drifted back to catch a deep fly ball.
Watson provided her own defensive gem at second base with a backhand stop before throwing from her knees in a 1-2-3 second frame for Meinershagen.
Kelly compiled 11 hits overall without striking out. Kenzi Koepp had a two-out double in the fifth, and Rylee Crumley singled to begin the sixth.
The Lady Bulldogs popped out nine separate times against Tidwell, often while chasing the first pitch in a game that spanned just 72 minutes.
West County captured a fifth straight district crown last May before beginning the program transition to sanctioned fall softball, and ousted two higher seeds in the bracket on Wednesday.
With many players obligated to share game and practice time between the softball diamond and volleyball court, the Lady Bulldogs constructed a difficult schedule on short notice that included seven opponents from larger classes.
Matt King is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at email@example.com