(Photos by Josh Mills, Staff)
ST. JOSEPH -- Five runs on nine hits provided just enough offense to end the Kelly Lady Hawks' season on Saturday afternoon, but the Class 2 runner-up squad didn't go home feeling as if an entire 23-5 season was a loss.
"What a way to go out," said Kelly head coach Rhonda Ratledge following the Class 2 championship game. "Any team in the state of Missouri would trade places with us right now. That's what I told the girls, 'There's no reason to hang your heads.' We'll take second place."
The Lady Hawks scrapped for seven innings, but three-peat champion Palmyra posted their 26th victory of the season, winning 5-1, after cashing in on their nine-hit effort. The Lady Panthers plated two runs in the top of the fourth and two more in the fifth on a two-run home run by Macy Bross to hold a 4-0 lead heading into the bottom half of the fifth.
Kelly senior Brittany Brantley laced a single to start the bottom of the fifth, but courtesy runner Emily Grojean was eventually thrown out at home plate on a close call. Fellow senior Lana Whitworth reached base on an error and after moving up on the throw that retired Grojean she scored on a single by Londyn Backfisch. Katee Moore, another senior Lady Hawk, hit a hard liner to first base which was caught to end one of the biggest threats that Kelly forced all day.
"I wish we could've put it in play a little bit better," said Ratledge. "We've done a better job at that throughout the season. This little pitcher (Palmyra's Taylor Baxter) kept us off balance, but when we did put it in play they did make errors and we got our runners around, just not enough runs there."
Baxter, who gave up just one hit in the 2007 semifinal victory over Kelly, surrendered three hits and two walks in Saturday's championship victory. She struck out 16 in the win.
With the possibility of facing the Lady Panthers once again next season, Ratledge said that she would love to see it happen.
"We've got a very good shot of being back up here next year with Danielle Dock pitching for us," she said. "It's going to be tough losing those six seniors. But, I've got some good girls coming up too. My JV girls played extremely well, and they only lost one JV game this whole season. I'm looking forward to working with them, but I don't want to take away anything from the seniors, they're definitely going to be missed. I've had a good four year ride with them."
Dock, the Kelly junior pitcher, was handed the loss in the contest. Through seven innings of work, she gave up five earned runs on nine hits and one walk while striking out five.
As for the six seniors that Ratledge spoke of, two of them saw time on the pitching rubber in the 2008 season, Heather Beggs and Jessica Riley.
When asked to sum up the six upper classmen with just one word, Ratledge replied, "Dedication."
"From their freshman year on, anytime I would have an extra practice or practice on the weekend, everyone would show up," she said. "They were all there. If I said practice started at 3 p.m., they were all there by 2:30 p.m. So, it's definitely their dedication and their love of softball."
The six seniors had many thoughts about their head coach with whom they've spent their last four seasons with, but one word finally reached a unanimous vote, "Exuberance."
The word made all six girls, Moore, Beggs, Riley, Brantley, Whitworth and Casey Kern, laugh hysterically once spoken from Kern, the Kelly first baseman.
"That's a good one," said Whitworth.
"I said it one time and they don't think it's a word," said Kern laughing. "It means to be up and to get joyful."
As for the seniors' performances throughout the day, Brantley was the only one that picked up a hit for the senior class while Kern recorded two walks. Fittingly it was a senior, Whitworth, who scored the lone run for the Lady Hawks.
Backfisch recorded the other two hits for Kelly as she finished the day 2-for-3 with an RBI.
With the second place trophy sitting on the grass in front of the Lady Hawk seniors, they offered up one more piece of advice for those preparing to fill their shoes, in particular Backfisch, Dock and Carissa Klipfel, who are the three juniors in the Kelly program ready to take on the leadership role.
"Don't take it for granted," said the senior class. "It goes by so fast."