As it has been said, “close” only counts in two things. Too bad one of them isn’t softball.
Wednesday night was made up of unprecedented home runs, late-inning heroics, and cold drizzle at Ray-Pec’s softball field. It was one of those games that none of the players on either team will ever forget.
After defeating the Belton Lady Pirates in nine innings in the District championship game last week in Grandview, Raymore-Peculiar got to come home to host Sectionals against a talented Lee’s Summit squad.
The Lady Panthers’ senior pitcher and impossible-to-wear-out competitor, Emily Ross, started the game and threw a nearly unimaginable 173 pitches — 117 of them for strikes. Sydnie Harmon, Bekah Mueller, and Quincy Martin Ray-Pec’s two-, three-, and six-spot hitters, respectively, got on base a combined ten times.
But in the end, it was the Lee’s Summit team that gathered around home plate to take their team picture with the Sectional trophy in a 5-4, eleven-inning victory.
Ray-Pec (21-7) played Lee’s Summit (20-6) twice before meeting on Wednesday. The Lady Panthers won an early-season game 2-1 at LSHS but lost to the Lady Tigers at home 7-3 on Sepetember 24.
Delaney Young, a Ray-Pec senior, started at first base in place of freshman Callie Martin, a move that had not been made often by the Lady Panthers.
“Honestly, I just kind of went with my gut,” said head coach Jim Brown after the game.
“I had a feeling she was due for a big hit.”
Coach Brown was right, as a fourth-inning, three-run home run off the bat of Young gave the Lady Panthers a 3-0 lead in what would turn out to be just the beginning stages of the game.
Young started off the at-bat 2-0, but eventually found herself facing a full-count pitch with one out.
“I figured she’d get something around the plate and she squared it up,” said Brown.
The outfield fence at Raymore-Peculiar’s field measures 200 feet and Young’s home run was just enough to hit the top of the wall and bounce over. The senior’s spark gave her team momentum as they looked to finish out the game over the next three innings.
Ross surrendered a hit in the third and the fourth, but the Lady Tigers would not score a run until the senior’s 78th pitch.
Just after Ross finished the fifth inning by only throwing six pitches, a leadoff single in the sixth had her in trouble. The next batter, senior Katie Farotto, hit a double and put Lee’s Summit on the board. The Lady Tigers would get another run before the end of the inning, facing just a one-run deficit heading into the seventh.
After Ray-Pec failed to get any runs across the plate in their half of the seventh, Lee’s Summit was able to tie the game with two outs in the bottom half of the inning. Senior Alexis Reed bruised a Ross fastball, launching it over the fence and tying the game at three.
In the top half of the eighth, senior Bekah Mueller hustled to first on an ground ball, making it safely and getting the Lady Panthers started off well with no outs. After a Reice Brown sacrifice bunt moved Mueller to second base, sophomore Toni Martin took a full-count pitch into right field and the defender was only able to trap the ball on a dive, scoring Mueller and giving Ray-Pec a one-run lead.
But Lee’s Summit answered back. Down to their final strike two different times and barely missing the final out on a pick-off move to first, the Lady Tigers scored a run of their own to tie the game at four.
“They made plays,” Brown said after the game. “I thought we had the game wrapped up then they hit four hits in a row with two outs.”
“Coach Bertoncin (Lee’s Summit’s coach) and I talked before the eleventh inning and we both just said ‘It’s too bad somebody is going to have to lose a game like this.’ It was such a great game, such a great environment.”
The ninth and tenth innings proved to be unfruitful for both teams, as the night got colder and the rain got just a little bit heavier. Extra innings were nothing new to the Lady Tigers, as their October 1 game against Blue Springs carried into the fifteenth inning. Both teams seemed to remain cautiously confident throughout.
In the bottom of the eleventh, Lee’s Summit got a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt to put the Lady Panthers up against the ropes.
On the next play, a ground ball was hit toward Ray-Pec shortstop Reice Brown. The sophomore gathered the ball and threw toward first, but the throw hit the ground and bounced away from first baseman Delaney Young.
As Young grabbed the ball near the fence in foul territory, the Lady Tigers’ baserunner rounded third headed for home. The throw was handled by Mueller, but she couldn’t get the tag around fast enough as Lee’s Summit stormed the diamond in celebration of their hard-fought victory.
“It will hurt for a few days, but [the players] will fondly remember this night,” said Brown.
Raymore-Peculiar’s season ended in tears on their home field, but the girls have plenty to be proud of. After winning their second District title in a row, seniors like Emily Ross and Bekah Mueller clearly left their mark on the program – and will be difficult to replace.
“You can’t replace two kids like that and what they’ve meant to our program,” said Coach Brown after the game. “We have to figure out how to build around the hole they left. They were great for us. Those two have been awfully good to Coach Brown over the last two years.”
Now that all is said and done for the Lady Panthers as a team, all of the individual awards are yet to be decided.
Emily Ross, Bekah Mueller, Sydnie Harmon, Reice Brown, Toni Martin, and Skyler Hime were all First Team All-District for Ray-Pec. Lauryn Deer made Second Team All-District.
Mueller achieved Second Team All-State last year, so she and other top performers will remain hopeful to receive great recognition again this year.