HHS junior Aliyah Walker swings for an infield single during the third inning of the Lady Tigers' loss to Central (Park Hills) in a Class 2 State Tournament quarterfinals game Tuesday at Carter Field in Houston. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

The dream season of 2022 ended somewhat nightmarishly for the Houston High School softball team, as the Lady Tigers lost 18-3 to Central (Park Hills) in a Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 2 State Tournament quarterfinals game Tuesday at Carter Field in Houston.

“Obviously, they’re a good team,” said fourth-year HHS head coach Jim Moore. “You don’t get to that point unless you’re good, but we just didn’t do what we needed to do.”

Things started out rough for the District 4 champion Lady Tigers, as the District 3 champion Lady Rebels scored 3 runs on 2 hits in the top of the first inning before adding 6 runs on 4 hits in the second frame.

Central then went on a long-ball binge in the third inning, bashing 3 home runs during a 5-run rally that extended the lead to 14-0. Freshman shortstop Sydney Miles began the flurry, smashing a 2-run dinger high over the fence in left-center field. After a base hit, senior pitcher Alexandra Kelly knocked a ball into almost the same spot for another 2-run shot. The next batter – senior first baseman Taylor Marler – then crushed a solo homer to dead center field.

Central got yet another homer in the top of the fifth inning, as freshman catcher Kaydence Cosby knocked a 2-run shot to center to make it a 16-0 game. The Lady Rebels then concluded their scoring with an RBI triple by Marler and a sacrifice fly.

Trailing 18-0, the Lady Tigers got all of their runs on one swing of the bat in the bottom of the fifth inning, as senior third baseman Mali Brookshire belted a 3-run home run with 1 out, driving in juniors Aliyah Walker (who led off with a double) and Karlee Curtis (who reached base with a walk).

Head coach Jim Moore high-fives Lady Tigers players prior to Tuesday’s state tournament game at Carter Field.

Walker pitched another complete game for Houston, but the Lady Rebels seemed to have her number from the get-go, amassing 15 hits (including 9 for extra bases) in the 4 ½-inning, run-rule shortened contest. Marler went at 3-for-4 5 RBIs and a whopping 9 total bases (thanks to a double, a triple and a home run), while Kelly and Miles each went 3-for-3 and scored 4 runs apiece.

Kelly also went the distance in the pitcher’s circle, allowing 6 hits while striking out 12 and walking 4.

Walker went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored for the Lady Tigers, while junior second baseman Madi Reed continued her late-season surge at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a double.

In numerous outings leading up to the game, defense had been a strong suit for Houston. But even that went south in the contest, as Lady Tigers fielders committed 6 errors and made multiple other mistakes that don’t show up statistically. Meanwhile, the Lady Rebels played virtually clean defense and committed only 1 error.

“We can’t make errors like that and expect to move on,” Moore said. “And we hadn’t been; that’s what was really disappointing. They hit the ball well, but I think us making so many early mistakes allowed them to settle in and relax and play a little more freely, and it kind of snowballed.

“I actually had a really good feeling about the game coming in, but boy, was I way off. When that separation took place, we knew it was going to be a long road.”

Houston also left 7 runners on base while Central stranded only 3.

The largest crowd in the history of Carter Field attended Tuesday’s Class 2 State Tournament softball game.

The game was the last in the high school careers of HHS seniors Brookshire, Hannah Dzurick and Mackenzie Holder, all of whom were offensive leaders for the Lady Tigers this season. Brookshire led the squad in batting average with a robust mark of .543, and was second in RBIs with 29 and fourth in runs scored with 25. Dzurick was second in batting at .519, third in RBIs with 26 and third in runs with 30, while Holder led the way in RBIs with 32 and batted .329. All three were tied for the team lead in home runs with 3 (along with Bryan).

“We’re going to miss those three players,” Moore said. “They’re going to be hard to replace, but we’ve got a lot of girls who will be ready.”

The Lady Tigers entered the contest having won 10 of their last 11 games and finished the season with an overall record of 18-6. They went 6-1 in South Central Association play, losing only to conference champion Ava (before getting revenge in the district championship game).

“It definitely was a successful season,” Moore said. “We did reach our goal of a district championship, but fell short of the Final Four goal. But that doesn’t take away from all the hard work and effort we put in.

“I’m so proud of the whole team in general. Watching individuals work on their game and get better throughout the season was great. And also great seeing them grow as a team and put aside some individual opinions from time to time, and root for each other, be happy for each other and play for each other. We did that, and that’s really what you’re after as coach.”

After winning for the eighth straight time, Central (17-6) advanced to face defending Class 2 state champion Skyline (21-4) on Monday morning at the Killian Sports Complex in Springfield.

“We’re going to remember this,” Moore said, “and when we get back in the same situation we’re not going to get beat like that. I know we’ll put in the work, and I think we can do it.”

To view photo gallery from the Lady Tigers’ state tournament game against Central (with the option to purchase photos), click here.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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