Employing a lethal combination of stellar defense, timely power hitting and solid pitching, the Houston High School softball team beat Potosi 9-4 in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 2 District 3 Tournament Wednesday at Potosi.
The Lady Tigers were seeded second in the event’s 8-team field, while the host Lady Trojans were the top seed despite having an 8-15 record coming in. The district championship is Houston’s second straight, as last year the Lady Tigers beat Ava in the Class 2 District 4 Tournament final. The title adds to this season’s success, as Houston was also co-champion in the South Central Association conference.
“It’s really fulfilling,” said HHS head coach Jim Moore. “I’m happy for the whole team. It’s been a good run.”
Houston wasted no time in gaining an advantage in the contest, scoring 4 runs in the top of the first inning with a rally highlighted by a 3-run double by senior right fielder Rhease Manier that cleared the bases and put the Lady Tigers on top 4-0.
The Lady Tigers then went ahead 5-0 in the second frame on a solo home run to dead center field by senior catcher Katie Jo Chipps.
Potosi got on the board with a run in the bottom of the third inning and then cut the deficit to 5-4 in the fourth frame on an RBI double by freshman Kallee Logsden and a 2-run double by sophomore Ava Wright. But in a pivotal, potentially game-changing play, Wright tried to extend the hit to a triple and was gunned down on a perfect throw from Chipps to senior third baseman Mackenzie Bryan.
After the huge play, the Lady Trojans would not score again.
But Houston did, getting 2 runs in the top of the fifth inning on an error and an RBI triple by Manier, and then adding 2 more in the sixth when Chipps launched a 2-run homer to left field.
With the score at 7-4 in favor of Houston and Potosi runners at first and third with 1 away in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Lady Tigers turned a rally-killing, run-saving 6-4-3 double play when sophomore shortstop Sophie Crites scooped up a grounder and flipped the ball to senior second baseman Madi Reed, who tossed it to junior first baseman Kelsey Pritchett in plenty of time to record the third out in the frame.
Key defensive plays were commonplace for Houston throughout the contest. Bryan was frequently busy at the hot corner, tagging out 2 runners and making multiple other big plays for outs. Reed went to her knees to snag a hard-hit ball in the fourth inning and threw to Pritchett for the out. Manier caught several fly balls in right field, and sophomore Lacey Cavaness flagged down a sharp line drive that almost took her mitt off as she caught it to record the first out in the fifth. In the bottom of the seventh, Crites gloved a sharply-hit ball going up the middle and was on the second base side of the infield when she threw to first.
“We’ve played solid defense most of the time, but we hadn’t shown that all year,” Moore said. “We made so many huge plays in huge situations. I can’t say enough about it; it was amazing and fun to watch.
“We know we’re solid, but if we play defense like that and keep hitting the ball like we have, we become elite in my opinion.”
Chipps went 3-for-4 at the plate in the game with 2 homers, 4 RBIs and 3 runs scored, while Manier continued her hot streak with the bat by ending up a homer short of the cycle, going 3-for-4 with a triple, a double, a single and 4 RBIs. Pritchett also had a multi-hit outing again, going 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and 2 runs, raising her team-high batting average to a robust .561.
Senior Aliyah Walker went the distance in the pitcher’s circle for Houston, allowing 3 earned runs on 8 hits while striking out 6 and walking 2. Freshman Shannon Riddle pitched a complete game for Potosi, allowing 9 hits and 5 earned runs while fanning 5 and walking 2.
The Lady Trojans finished the season at 10-16.
LOPSIDED SEMINFINALS WIN
To reach the final game, Houston routed third-seeded Steelville 11-1 in a 5-inning run-rule shortened semifinal matchup that began Monday and was completed on Tuesday after being suspended due to rain.
The Lady Tigers got on the board first in the contest with a run in the bottom of the third inning on an RBI single by Chipps.
The Lady Cardinals pulled even with a run in the top of the fourth, but Houston went ahead again in the bottom of the frame when Chipps scored on an error.
Then after Steelville was held scoreless in the top of the fifth inning, the Lady Tigers scored 9 runs in the bottom of the frame to earn the victory.
Houston had 9 hits in the game. Chipps went 2-for-2 at the plate, with a triple, 2 walks, 2 RBIs and a run scored, while lead-off batter Walker went 1-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and 3 runs. Manier and Bryan both had multi-hit outings, with Manier going 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored and Bryan going 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.
Walker went the distance in the pitcher’s circle for Houston, allowing only 2 hits while striking out 6 and walking none.
Junior Marli Perkins started in circle for Steelville and allowed 6 hits and 6 runs (4 earned) while striking out 6 and walking 2 before leaving with an injury with 1 out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Freshman Shiann Weber then took over and gave up 5 earned runs on 3 hits, while fanning 1 and issuing 4 walks.
The Lady Cardinals finished the season at 7-6.
Houston beat seventh-seeded Kingston 19-4 in 3 innings in a first round game on Saturday, May 6.
“It’s just amazing,” Chipps said. “We’ve played together for so long and it’s like we’ve worked our whole lives for this moment and it’s here.”
“I love it!” Walker said. “We’ve been working hard for this and it feels good.”
Chipps has now hit 7 home runs this season, one of the highest totals in the history of HHS softball. She is batting .532 and has driven in a team-high 46 runs (13 more than the next highest total), and 20 of her 33 hits are for extra bases.
Chipps missed her entire junior season due to an injury.
“It’s insane to me – it’s hard to believe,” she said. “But I had to work so hard just to get back to where I was a year ago, and I feel like that has helped me get to another level.”
“We really missed Katie last year,” Walker said, “so I’m glad she’s getting this experience this year.”
“I’m so happy for her,” Moore said. “She’s seeing the ball well and having a lot of fun. She has also taken on a vocal leadership role on the team, and that’s out of her normal comfort zone. She’s done a great job this year; she’s done everything we’ve asked of her and gone above and beyond that.”
Thanks to her breakout at the plate, Manier was batting .473 through last week (third on the team).
“Rhease is a completely different player than at the beginning of the year,” Moore said. “She was a solid player, but she’s got a lot of confidence right now and is just stroking it. She’s also playing good defense; it’s so fun to watch.”
Houston (17-3) will host a Class 2 State Tournament quarterfinals game against District 4 champion Ava at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday (May 16) at Carter Field, with the winner taking on either District 1 champion Malden or District 2 champ West County (of Leadwood) in the Class 2 Final Four.
The Lady Tigers’ experienced lineup in the district final featured seven upperclassmen, including six seniors and a junior.
“This is so amazing,” Bryan said. “I can’t even describe it. It’s a high. And with so many upperclassmen, it’s just incredible.”
“To see how much farther we can go is just crazy to think about,” Chipps said.
The Lady Tigers also hosted a state tournament game last year.
“They’re believing,” Moore said, “and that’s important right now. I think being there before is an advantage because we’ve been there and done that, and we kind of know what to expect.
“That won’t make it any easier, and we know that, but we’re excited about the opportunity and we feel like if we come out and play our game, we’ll have a shot.”