POPLAR BLUFF -- Just two years removed from their last appearance in the MSHSAA Show Me Showdown, the Kelly Lady Hawks took another big step toward a return appearance to high school softball's biggest stage.
Able to shake off a rough start against Twin Rivers in Class 2 Sectional play Wednesday, the Lady Hawks combined for 14 hits while getting a brilliant pitching performance from freshman Alexis Dock to mercy-rule the Lady Royals 12-1 in five innings.
"Even though a month ago we beat them 9-0 that doesn't mean you come into this type of game right here and still expect to do that," Kelly head coach Rhonda Ratledge said. "Within a months time they've gotten better and everybody is excited to be here. So teams that reach this point usually have the game of their life.
"That's what I kept telling the girls. You have to get in there and earn it. So when Twin Rivers started making errors that kind of got the ball rolling and we had a couple runs, that was key for us."
Though the final score shows the game to be a rout, the Lady Hawks had plenty to worry about early on as a single and triple in Twin Rivers' first two at bats resulted in a quick run.
Wasting little time, Kelly called their co-ace Dock to the mound to spell starter Kristy Brucker with a runner on third and one out.
In one of the highest pressure situations of her young career, Dock went on to hold the Lady Royals scoreless the rest of the first frame before finishing the night throwing 4 2/3 innings of perfect ball. Though she didn't collect a strikeout, Dock retired all 15 batters she faced, in order, before the mercy-rule took effect.
With Brucker known for her control and Dock more for power, Ratledge said it was the Lady Hawks' plan all along to utilize both pitchers against Twin Rivers.
"A month ago Kristi had threw against Twin Rivers and held them extremely well," Ratledge said of her sophomore starter. "She kept them off balance a little bit. So our game plan was to throw her three or four innings and then bring Alexis in towards the end.
"But when they jumped on us that quick then I knew we had to switch. I don't think there is that quick of pitching over in this area for Twin Rivers so I was hoping Alexis could come in and finish up."
While Dock and Kelly's defense held the Lady Royals' offense at bay, the Lady Hawks' bats more than made up for any early deficit they may have collected.
Starting with leadoff hitter Samantha Ratledge reaching on an error, five-straight Kelly hitters reached based in the bottom of the first frame as the Lady Hawks manufactured the first of back-to-back three-run rallies.
Samantha Ratledge came around to score on a bunt by Dock and before the at-bat was over, the go-ahead run had scored when Morgan LeDure came home as Dock forced a play at second base.
By the end of the inning, the Lady Hawks had taken a 3-1 advantage on an RBI groundout by Brucker.
After sending the Lady Royals down in order, a double from Stephanie Worth plated the first run of a three-run second inning with a pair of runs coming home on a throwing error.
Coming up with her third-straight hit of the contest, Dock kick-started Kelly's biggest rally of the night in the third when she cleared the bases with a triple to deep right field. After sliding into third, Dock came around to score on an error by Twin Rivers to give her team a nine-run lead.
With two outs, Jessica Worth scored from second on a ball hit by Jade Rampley to cap the five-run rally and put the mercy-rule in effect at 11-1.
"We were definitely on our game," Dock said. "We were there for each other through the whole game and picked each other up."
On a night where the Lady Hawks got production from every spot in their lineup, Dock added to her pitching performance by going 3 for 4 at the plate with the above mentioned triple and four runs batted in.
Samantha Ratledge also had a three-hit performance while reaching in all four plate appearances. She scored three times and drove in a run. LeDure, Stephanie Worth and Jessica Worth had two hits each, including a double by Stephanie Worth.
"Everybody up and down the lineup was putting the ball in play and making Twin Rivers make the play," Rhonda Ratledge said. "We keep telling the girls when you make contact with the ball they have field it, throw it and catch it.
"They have to do three things correct and so that's we try to do. Just make sure everybody in the lineup puts it in play."
For Twin Rivers, Lexi Stockton provided her team with a single, connecting on the first pitch of the game, while Maci Shearer provided the triple that scored their only run of the game.
"Early we came out and our plan was to jump on them and get that first pitch strike and hit it as hard as we could," Lady Royals' head coach Dustin Benson said. "We did that early in first inning. We had a lot of momentum but then they brought in Dock and she did a good job.
"She throws the ball hard and she did a good job throwing strikes and we were a little behind her all night."
With the win, Kelly now stands one win away from another trip to the Show Me Showdown.
They'll play Hartville, who beat Houston 6-2 in the quarterfinals, on Saturday at a time and place to be determined.
Twin Rivers 100 00 - 1
Kelly 335 1x - 12
WP -- Alexis Dock. LP -- Brooke Madison. Multiple hitters: (K) Samantha Ratledge 3-4, Morgan LeDure 2-4, Alexis Dock 3-4, Stephanie Worth 2-3, Jessica Worth 2-3. 2B -- (K) Stephanie Worth, Sydney Vinyard. 3B -- (T) Maci Shearer; (K) Dock.