"I'm still on cloud nine and will be for the next several weeks," said Kelly coach Rhonda Ratledge, after her second state title. The first was in 1996.
Kelly (25-6) defeated Bishop LeBlond of St. Joseph 1-0 in the Class 2 title game on Saturday at the Rainbow Softball Center in Columbia.
Bishop LeBlond finished at 25-3.
The Lady Hawks (25-6), behind pitcher Whitney Beggs and a flawless defense, made a patented Kelly-style manufactured run stand up for the victory.
In the fourth inning, shortstop Kelly Essner drew a lead-off walk, then, with one out, stole second. After Rachel Kline had sacrificed Essner to third, Beggs drilled an RBI single down the left-field line for what proved to be the game-winning run.
Beggs (13-3) and Bishop LeBlond's Jennifer Kempf (23-3) engaged in a classic pitcher's duel. Beggs allowed one hit, struck out eight and walked none, while Kempf, who had allowed just two earned runs all season, gave up two hits, struck out 11 and walked one.
Third baseman Jessica Burnett doubled to left-centerfield for the other Kelly hit.
Beggs was one out from a perfect game, when Erin Coyne singled on a 3-2 count in the bottom of the seventh.
The next batter grounded out to Essner, who was error-free throughout the entire season, for the final out.
"Gosh, it's a shame she lost the perfect game," said Ratledge, "but, hey, we'll sure take that state championship win."
Defensive execution has been a constant strength of the Lady Hawks, also the SEMO Conference champions, all season. The championship game was no exception.
Assistant coach Melanie Heuring recalled one play, in particular.
In the bottom of the fourth just after Kelly had scored its lone run, a Bishop LeBlond hitter laid down a one-out bunt in front of the plate. Catcher Kristin Harper fielded the ball and threw a bit high to first base, where bantam-sized second baseman Brittany Ponder was covering. Ponder stretched her 5-foot frame to its limit to make the catch and keep her tiptoe on the bag for the putout. Ratledge, who ran her stellar career coaching record to 259-60, proved to be a prophet, as well, when after the quarterfinal win, she proclaimed, "We're going all the way." Ratledge credits the summer softball program, along with the outstanding community support from parents and patrons of the program, for much of the team's success.
Close call: To reach the final, Kelly defeated defending champion Putnam County with a late rally.
Trailing 2-1, Kelly erupted for four runs in the top of the seventh for the victory.
"That's when my stomach started turning," said Ratledge. "I don't know if it was nerves or just pure excitement." Stephanie Hency and Kline led the nine-hit offense with two hits apiece. Essner, Harper, Ponder, Summer Proctor and Mindy Robert had one hit each.
Beggs was the winning hurler.
Putnam County defeated Purdy 1-0 in 10 innings for the third-place trophy.
Family affair: The great tradition of Kelly softball is evidenced in the two championship teams. The '96 titleholders included Megan and Ashley Beggs (sisters of Whitney), Natalie Robert (sister of Mindy) and Marissa Essner (sister of Kelly).
Class 3 notes: Cape Girardeau Notre Dame finished third with an 8-2 win over St. Charles West.
Undefeated Webb City (32-0), narrowly escaping with a 2-1 win over Notre Dame, went on to win the Class 3 championship with an 8-0 victory over Kearney.