Looking at some of the statistics, you might not think the Houston High School softball team would have won in a South Central Association game Monday at the Roberts Park Sports Complex in Cabool.
But despite leaving 12 runners on base (including five in scoring position) and committing base running mistakes that led to 5 outs, the Lady Tigers blanked the host Lady Bulldogs 3-0.
HHS head coach Jim Moore knows “a win’s a win.”
“We’ll take them any way we can,” Moore said.
Sparkling defense helped the Lady Tigers compensate for their offensive shortcomings in the contest, and several key plays were turned in by multiple Houston players.
One occurred in the bottom of the fifth inning when senior center fielder Jaden Stell gunned down Lady Bulldog sophomore Athena Waller at third base after Waller got aboard with a 2-out single and was trying to reach third on another single. Another came with the game still on the line with 1 out in the bottom of the seventh, when sophomore catcher Katie Jo Chipps threw a rope to sophomore shortstop Karlee Curtis to get Cabool senior Vanessa Kenter, who was trying to steal second base.
Obviously, the Lady Tigers did generate enough offense to get the job done.
Houston scored a run in the top of the second inning when senior first baseman Riley Scheets hit a fly ball to left-center that was dropped and she ran all the way to third base. Scheets crossed the plate moments later on a ground ball by freshman designated hitter Kelsey Pritchett.
The Lady Tigers added 2 big runs in the top of the seventh inning.
The decisive rally began with a single by junior third baseman Hannah Dzurick, who went to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt by sophomore pitcher Aliyah Walker and scored when Chipps knocked a long double off the fence in dead-center field. Chipps then touched the plate on an RBI base hit by Pritchett.
Walker tossed a complete game shutout, allowing only 4 hits while fanning 5 and not issuing a walk. On the final pitch of the game, she delivered up a nasty change-up that sailed slowly over the middle of the plate to strike out freshman Bailey Aaron, who was frozen in place by the timely pitch and could do nothing but watch it go into Chipps’ mitt.
“We struggled making good decisions on the bases and didn’t get the hits we needed to break the game open,” Moore said. “However, we did have some clutch hits and scored enough to allow our defense to do the rest. We have to be better offensively going forward, and we will be. We show our youth sometimes on the bases and our decision making, but mistakes we make are aggressive and we would rather play that way than to be timid.
“Being aggressive keeps the pressure on our opponents. We want to be what we call ‘smart aggressive’ on the bases. We aren’t quite there yet, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Walker also helped her own cause by making several key defensive plays. Moore said one of the team’s favorite saying is, “defense should always travel.”
“Our defense came to play last night,” he said. “It started with Aliyah on the mound and Katie behind the plate. Those two were lights out all night. Then we made some really good plays behind Aliyah in the field. We needed everyone of them.”
Walker was back in the pitcher’s circle after not starting in the Lady Tigers’ previous game.
“Aliyah was sharp all night long,” Moore said. “I was happy for her to see her throw a pitch like that to end an outstanding outing on the mound. She had good control all night and the change-up she threw to end the game was one of her best pitches of the year.”
The win the Lady Tigers’ second over Cabool this season, as they prevailed 13-11 April 1 in Houston (despite trailing 8-2 in the fourth inning).
Prior to Monday’s contest, Moore exhorted his players.
“C’mon girls!” he said. “Let’s go have a good old cat and dog fight!”
Next up for the Houston (11-2, 2-1 SCA) are nonconference games Thursday (April 22) at Steelville and Monday (April 26) at home against Alton. The Lady Tigers travel to Liberty on Tuesday.
“I like the direction our team is headed,” Moore said. “We are yet to put a complete game together on both sides of the ball, but we’re showing signs of it starting to come together. When it does, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
“I feel at this point in the season our defense is the best it has been all year,” Walker said. “Every game we do better and better in the field and it makes it hard for any team to beat us. Our bats have come around the last few games, but I really think that by the end of this week – having four games of seeing the ball – we will be hitting our best.
“I’m excited to see how far we will go in districts, because when we play our best, we won’t be beat.”