Gainesville's Sara Jo Cunningham slides safely past Houston catcher Belle Knarr in the district semifinals. Knarr was named to the all-district team.

The Houston softball team’s defense of its district crown ended with a semifinal loss.

Gainesville broke a 5-all tie by scoring an unearned run in the bottom of sixth inning and squeaked past the Lady Tigers 6-5 last Thursday evening in the Class 2 District 3 Tournament on Carter Field.

It was the end of the season for a team with high expectations that the previous year brought the Houston softball team its first-ever district championship.

This year –– on their home field –– it wasn’t meant to be for the Lady Tigers. 

“I’m not disappointed in the way the girls played. I’m disappointed in the outcome,” HHS coach Brent Hall said. “We set a goal to win the district again and didn’t, so that is disappointing.”

Willow Springs, which beat Mountain Grove 5-1 in the other semifinal, topped Gainesville 2-0 in Friday’s championship game. The Lady Bears (14-10) hosted Hartville in the sectional round on Wednesday.

After falling behind 5-2, HHS battled back to tie it with three runs in the fourth. Belle Knarr started the rally with a home run over the center-field fence. Autumn Walker and Taylor Franklin had consecutive two-out, RBI hits to knot the game at 5-all.

But Gainesville (16-5) retook the advantage for good in the sixth. No. 8 hitter Sara Jo Cunningham reached on an error and with two outs, scored on a throwing error.

Gainesville starter Katelyn Brantingham retired the Lady Tigers in order in the top of the seventh to end it.

“I felt confident that even though we gave them that run, we’d get it back and maybe even take the lead,” Hall said. “It didn’t happen.”

Seven different HHS players had hits, but only Taylor Franklin had multiple ones. She was 2-for-4 with a run scored. Walker doubled home a run and also scored.

Senior Emily Harrison allowed seven hits and five earned runs in the complete-game loss. She struck out two and walked four.

The loss was the final home game for the Lady Tigers’ six seniors: Taylor Franklin, Knarr, Harrison, Hailey Dodson, Dani Sears and Kaylea Preheim. Although they didn’t defend their district title, they did lead the team to victories in 8 of their final 11 games.

“Not only did we put ourselves in position to win the district, we finished with a winning record,” Hall said. “That was the saving grace from the season.”

Houston, which was the visiting team on its home field, jumped ahead 2-0 with a pair of first-inning runs. Walker reached on an error leading off the game and scored when Taylor Franklin, who singled, drew a throw as she advanced to second base. Lizzy Swindell followed with a RBI single to score Taylor Franklin.

Gainesville tied it on Kiya Head’s two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the first. The Lady Bulldogs scored two more times in the second and added another run on a bases-loaded walk in the third for a 5-2 advantage.

Knarr started the rally in the fourth when she hammered a fastball over the left-field fence to make it 5-3. After Dodson reached on a fielder’s choice and Sears singled, Walker doubled home a run and Taylor Franklin singled to make it 5-5.

“Belle swings so hard, I’m surprised that she didn’t hit more home runs,” Hall said. “When she hits it, it’s going to fly.”

Box score

Houston  200  300  0  –  5  8  3

Gainesville  221  001  x  –  6  7  1

HOUSTON (ab-r-h-bi) – Walker 2b 4-1-1-1. TaFranklin ss 4-1-2-1. Swindell 1b 4-0-1-1. ToFranklin lf 4-0-1-0. Preheim 3b 4-0-0-0. Knarr c 2-1-1-1. Harrison p 2-0-0-0. Dodson cf 2-1-0-0. Sears 3-1-1-0. Totals 29-5-8-4.

GAINESVILLE (ab-r-h-bi) – Strong ss 4-0-1-1. Britt 2b 3-1-1-0. Rose 3b 3-1-1-0. Head c 4-1-1-2. Brantingham p 3-0-0-0. Wallace dp 2-0-0-0. Meyers 3-0-1-0. Cunningham cf 3-2-1-1. Ammyx 1b 3-1-1-1. Totals 28-6-7-5.

2B: Walker. HR: Knarr. SAC: Dodson. SB: TaFranklin, ToFranklin, Crewse.

HOUSTON  IP  H  R  ER  BB  SO

Harrison, L  6  7  6  5  4  2

GAINESVILLE  IP  H  R  ER  BB  SO

Brantingham, W  7  5  5  2  0

Wednesday’s scores

Mtn. Grove 17, Liberty 2 (4 inn.)

Houston 11, Plato 1 (5 inn.)

Thursday’s scores

Willow Springs 5, Mountain Grove 1

Gainesville 6, Houston 5

Friday’s game

(1) Willow Springs vs. (2) Gainesville, 5 p.m.

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