With a 16-9 victory in a South Central Association game Monday at Ava, the Houston High School softball Lady Tigers put themselves in a position of controlling their own destiny in the race for the 2023 conference championship.
“There’s some great stuff going on,” said HHS head coach Jim Moore, “but there’s also room for improvement, and that’s what’s exciting.”
Trailing 5-4 after 3 innings, Houston scored 5 big runs in the top of the fourth frame, added another 5-spot in the fifth and tacked on 2 more runs in the sixth.
“We kept piling on,” Moore said, “which was good because they kept battling back. They’re a really good team and well coached, and they don’t give in. It was a really good win for us and we were excited to get it.”
The Lady Tigers had 15 hits in the contest, getting 10 off of Lady Bears’ 6-2 senior pitcher Sara Mendel before she was chased with 1 out in the fifth inning.
HHS senior catcher Katie Jo Chipps continued her red-hot streak at the plate, going 4-for-5 with a 3-run home run, a triple, a career-high 6 RBIs and 3 runs scored. Her round-tripper in the top of the fourth inning was a shot to left field that put Houston ahead for good at 7-5.
After her latest stellar outing with the bat, Chipps had 14 hits in her last 16 trips to the plate. She was batting a team-high .569 with team-highs of 4 homers, 26 RBIs (next is 12) and 6 doubles.
Chipps missed the entire 2022 season due to injury.
“The rust is coming off and you’re seeing the kind of player she is,” Moore said. “She’s playing well and with a lot of confidence, and it’s not just on offense because she’s doing great behind the plate as well. She has taken on a senior leadership role, and she has a demeanor about her so when she says something, she does it in a way that people respond.
“She’s in a zone right now and I hope she doesn’t come out of it.”
HHS junior Kelsey Pritchett also had another big day with the bat, going 3-for-4 with 2 triples, 4 RBIs and 2 runs.
Senior Aliyah Walker went the distance in the pitcher’s circle for Houston, scattering 13 hits while striking out 6 and walking 3.
Houston committed 3 errors and made a few other mistakes that didn’t show up statistically.
“We have to clean that up,” Moore said, “and we know that.”
In action last week, the Lady Tigers bludgeoned Cabool 24-2 in an SCA game on Thursday at Carter Field after suffering their first defeat of the season two days earlier, when they fell 16-8 in a nonconference matchup with Dixon, also at Carter Field.
Then on Saturday, Houston won the annual Conway Tournament, beating the host team 12-8 and topping previously undefeated College Heights Christian (of Joplin) 3-2.
AN OFFENSIVE CLINIC
In the run-rule-shortened contest against Cabool, the visiting Lady Bulldogs took an early lead with 2 runs on only 1 hit in the top of the first inning.
But the Lady Tigers retaliated with 14 runs in the bottom of the frame and added another 10 in the second inning.
As Houston sent 19 batters to the plate in the first inning, freshman Katy Evans enjoyed a rare experience by smashing a 2-run home run and a 2-run double in the frame. Evans’ dinger was a bullet to left field that left the yard in a hurry, and came 2 pitches after she hit a foul ball to left that had home run distance but was about 5 feet wide of the foul pole.
The Lady Tigers totaled 14 hits in the contest and benefited from 9 walks.
Chipps went 3-for-3 with the bat with 2 doubles and 3 RBIs.
Pritchett did the pitching for Houston and worked all 3 innings, allowing only 2 hits and 1 earned run while striking out 6 and walking 3. She also went 2-for-2 at the plate and crushed a solo homer to center field during the first-inning barrage.
Spending only 2 innings in the field, the Lady Bulldogs committed a whopping 8 errors in the contest. Meanwhile, the Lady Tigers committed 1 error in 3 innings of fielding.
SOMEONE HAD TO LOSE
The battle with Dixon featured two undefeated teams, with the visiting Lady Bulldogs heading home at 9-0 and the Lady Tigers falling to 5-1.
Trailing 8-5 after 6 innings, Dixon erupted for 11 runs in the top of the seventh. Prior to the outburst, the contest had been a back-and-forth affair featuring three lead changes and two ties.
Walker started in the pitcher’s circle for Houston and worked 6 2/3 innings, allowing 15 hits and 14 earned runs while striking out 8, walking 6 and giving up a pair of homers. Pritchett finished, allowing a hit, 2 earned runs and 3 walks before the third out was recorded.
The Lady Tigers had 9 hits in the game. Walker and Chipps accounted for 7, with Walker going 3-for-4 with a home run, 2 triples, 3 RBIs and 2 runs scored, while Chipps went 4-for-4 with 2 doubles, 2 RBIs and 2 runs.
Dixon lead-off batter Mack Cross reached base in each of her 5 at-bats and scored each time.
Trailing 6-1 going into the bottom of the third inning of Saturday’s contest against Conway, the Lady Tigers turned the tables on the host Lady Bears by scoring 7 runs in the frame.
The game was halted after 5 innings due to the time limit for tournament games.
Chipps went 3-for-4 in the contest with an inside-the-park home run, a triple, a double, 4 RBIs and 3 runs scored.
Walker pitched for Houston, allowing 9 hits and 6 earned runs while striking out 7 and walking 1.
In the low-scoring duel with College Heights Christian (7-1 after the loss), Walker again went the distance, allowing 5 hits and no earned runs while striking out 5 and walking 1.
Lady Cougars’ fire-balling junior Madalyn Colin also tossed a complete game, allowing only 2 hits and 1 earned run, while fanning 12 and not issuing a walk.
With the score tied at 2 in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Lady Tigers scored on an error to secure the walk-off victory and take home the championship plaque in the 3-team event. The decisive run was recorded after freshman courtesy runner Micah Chipps stole second and third and then came home on the miscue.
After playing Tuesday of this week at Eminence, the Lady Tigers (9-1, 5-0 SCA through Monday) are scheduled to travel Thursday to Willow Springs for another huge SCA matchup, and host a nonconference contest Monday against Alton. Houston will then wrap up the SCA portion of the season with a road game against Liberty Tuesday in Mountain View.
“We still have plenty of work to do,” Moore said, “but so far, we’re on the right track. And we still have some things to clean up, and if we do that, we’ll be tough to beat.”