(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
JACKSON -- With her team trailing Poplar Bluff in extra innings on Wednesday, Sikeston sophomore Maggie Shepherd stepped to the plate for what was the most important at-bat of her young high school career.
Shepherd managed to connect with a Lady Mule offering for a three-run, walk-off home run that sailed over the centerfield fence, sealing an 8-6 Lady Bulldog win in the opening round of the Class 4, District 1 tournament.
"I was just trying to put the ball in play really," Shepherd said. "Just trying to move the runners. I was just hoping it was going to fall and wasn't going to get caught."
The atmosphere at the plate as Shepherd's teammates swarmed her was much different than the somber tone that surrounded Sikeston half an inning before,
The Lady Bulldogs opened the home half of the eighth inning having just surrendered a pair of go-ahead runs to give Poplar Bluff a 6-4 lead.
After a quick team meeting, however, the Lady Bulldogs shook off the dust and got to work on their comeback as No. 7 hitter, Madison Smith, led off the inning with an infield single.
Kayla Fodge followed Smith's hit with a one-out single to left field before leadoff hitter, Madison Chaney, beat out an infield single to plate the first run of the frame.
After Chaney cut the deficit to one, Shepherd came to the plate and drew a 2-2 count. Having already went deep on the same field earlier in the season against Jackson, Shepherd got the chance for a little deja vu when her shot sailed over the center fielder's head for the game-winner.
"The girls played their hearts out," Sikeston head coach Tiffany Morgan said. "They didn't let go. We've been talking about winning inning by inning and these girls again showed their leadership.
"Those six seniors kept those girls up and Maggie came through with a big hit. She was due and she came through at the right time."
Thanks to their eighth inning heroics, the Lady Bulldogs were able to put to rest any lingering frustration in surrendering a two-run lead just one out from advancing in the top of the seventh.
With Sikeston holding a 4-2 advantage after adding what turned out to be a crucial insurance run in the bottom of the sixth, Poplar Bluff came up in the seventh and put the tying run on second with two outs.
Before Sikeston could close things out, a line drive toward the pitcher scored a run and a bases-loaded single by Alexis Hendricks a few at bats later tied the game.
It was after the Lady Bulldogs stranded the potential winning run at first in the bottom of the seventh that the Lady Mules came up in the eighth and once again rallied for a pair of runs with two outs to go ahead 6-4.
"Most of us seniors thought this might have been it," Chaney said. "But we all picked each other up when we needed to pick each other up and had faith in each other.
"When it comes down to that you have to have faith in all your teammates, especially your pitcher to progress like that."
Besides representing the game-winning run in Sikeston's eighth-inning rally, Chaney led the Lady Bulldog's 13-hit effort at the plate as she went 3 for 5 and safely reached in all five appearances. Shepherd,
Fodge and Sarah Dixon all had two hits on the contest with Fodge also drawing a walk.
While the good feelings of their extra-inning heroics will likely last well into today, the Lady Bulldogs won't have long before they're put to the test again.
Heading back to Jackson, they will face top-seeded Farmington today at 4:30 p.m. in the tournament semifinals.
On the other side of the bracket, it was sixth-seeded Cape Central upsetting Hillsboro, the No. 3 seed, 10-5 on Wednesday to advance to a semifinal matchup with second-seeded Jackson today at 6:15 p.m.
Poplar Bluff 002 000 22 - 6
Sikeston 210 001 04 - 8
WP -- Paige Sailors. LP -- Maci Coleman. Multiple hitters: (P) Katelynn Bratcher 2-3, Randi Montgomery 2-4, Courtney Raulston 2-3; (S) Madison Chaney 3-5, Maggie Shepherd 2-5, Sarah Dixon 2-4, Kayla Fodge 2-3. HR -- (S) Shepherd.