BENTON -- In a rematch of last year's Class 2 sectional match up, the Kelly Lady Hawks and the East Carter County Lady Cardinals will once again find themselves squaring off in the opening round of the Class 2 Missouri State softball tournament.
Holding the Lady Cardinals scoreless, Kelly scored a run in the first before adding two more in the seventh for a 3-0 win that advanced them to a quarterfinal contest with Belle High School, where their season ended with a 1-0 loss.
Though East Carter holds the edge this season after beating the Lady Hawks in their season opener, Kelly coach Melanie Heuring feels her squad has made big strides since then.
"We know we lost to them earlier in the year 2-1, but that was our first game of the season," she said. "I feel like we improved and we're a better team since that first game. I still look for it to a good game, but hopefully with a better outcome."
Much like the regular season, Kelly has continued their late-inning heroics into the post-season.
After opening up the Class 2, District 2 Tournament scoring two runs in the sixth for a 3-2 win over Crystal City, the Lady Hawks were forced to rally against St. Pius in the championship game.
Trailing 3-2 going into the sixth, Kelly once again came up with a 2-run rally and held on for a 4-3 win.
"I keep calling this team my comeback girls," Heuring said. "I don't know what it is about that they want to wait until the last couple of innings to decide to score, but it would be nice to get on the scoreboard early in this game."
East Carter also faced a close test in getting to sectionals, edging out Twin Rivers 4-3 in the championship game after opening up with a commanding 8-0 win over Thayer.
With her team sometimes struggling at the plate, Heuring credits the team's ability to manufacture runs and a strong defense as the key to her team's post-season success so far.
"We're definitely not hitting like what I want us to be, but they're doing other things to produce runs," she said. "They're getting their bunts down. They're getting those extra bases on stealing, being aggressive and things like that.
"If they can't produce at the plate they know they have to get their bunts down to get something started and put pressure on them. They also know that they can't have any 'E's' in the field so they don't give them any runs. Since we're not producing we can't give them very many."
Unlike last year, the Lady Hawks will have home field advantage at Kelly High School on Wednesday at 4 p.m.