A memorable comeback led to a milestone moment for the Houston softball program.
The Lady Tigers scored seven times in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday to erase a six-run deficit and beat Mountain Grove 13-12 on Carter Field.
As if the rally itself wasn’t exciting enough, the victory clinched Houston’s first-ever South Central Association softball championship.
“It was one of our goals coming into this year,” first-year HHS softball head coach Jim Moore said. “To actually make it happens feels good.”
And no one but Moore knew what was on the line.
Moore said he didn’t tell his players that beating Mountain Grove – a team HHS lost to 11-8 March 23 in tournament play – would seal the SCA title. The Lady Tigers, who are playing competitively in the spring season for the first time, were the lone remaining unbeaten conference team.
He shared the news with his team after the wild comeback victory, setting off a moshpit-style celebration of jumping and chanting.
“I just wanted them to play hard and to the best of their ability,” Moore said. “I’m proud of the girls to stay in it – to continue to fight and believe.”
It didn’t look believable just a few minutes earlier. But trailing 12-6 and down to its final three outs, HHS used five hits, two walks and hit batter to erase the deficit.
Sophomore Riley Scheets provided the first big hit with a one-out double to make it 12-8. Four batters later – after a pair of walks and hit by pitch – senior Madison Curtis rocketed a two-run double to right-center field to make it 12-11.
Houston (9-3, 3-0 SCA) pulled even when Shelby Ozier sprinted home on a wild pitch and with two outs, freshman Hannah Dzurick’s blooper between the pitcher and first baseman was mishandled, allowing pinch runner Ashley Loman to race home with the game-winning run.
Moore believes his final-inning strategy of not swinging until taking one strike helped ignite the rally. The move led to a pair of walks, but Moore said it was just as critical to the base hits.
“When we were taking that pitch, we were seeing the ball,” Moore said. “The next pitch we saw, we were able to hit. And we hit hard in the seventh inning.”
Sophomore Jaden Stell was 3-for-4 with five RBIs to lead the HHS offense. MacKenzie Holder also had three hits and Curtis knocked in three runs.
Leadoff hitter Kameron Hall drew three walks and scored three times. Ozier had two of the team’s seven steals.
Senior Emily Roberts earned the win – her ninth of the season.
“I liked our fight,” Moore said. “There were a couple times this year we got our daubers down when other teams made runs. It was extremely important that we kept fighting and chipping away. “
The game was tied 5-all after four innings before Mountain Grove scored two runs apiece in the fifth and sixth. After Houston pushed home a run in the sixth, the Lady Panthers scored three times in the top of the seventh for a six-run lead.
It didn’t hold up.
Dzurick started the rally with an infield single, followed by a hit by Holder. Roberts then grounded out to bring home Dzurick.
Scheets’ double plated pinch runner Kaylee Hock to trim the lead to four. Hall and Stell then walked before Ozier was plunked with the bases loaded to score Scheets and make it 12-9. Curtis followed with a two-run double and Ozier raced home during the next at-bat to tie it.
After a strikeout, Dzurick came up for the second time in the inning for her winning at-bat.
The Houston softball program debuted in 2007 with three spring seasons – which at the time were not eligible for district play. The Lady Tigers moved to the fall in 2009 and three seasons later won a district championship under coach Brent Hall.
Moore took the reins of the program this season from Hall, who is the HHS head baseball coach, when it moved to the spring – now sanctioned by the Missouri State High School Activities Association for postseason play. The moves added up to a softball conference championship.
“We need to celebrate wins like this,” Moore said. “It’s been a big week for our school. To get a conference championship on top of (passing the bond issue on Tuesday), it’s a good time to be a Tiger.”