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Hawks lament missed opportunity
ST. JOSEPH — The Kelly softball team knew it was in for a difficult challenge having to face dominant Palmyra pitcher Taylor Baxter in Saturday's Class 2 championship game.
Baxter, a junior, helped Palmyra win the past two Class 2 state titles and had allowed no earned runs and 10 hits in the five final four games she had pitched before Saturday.
Make it six final four games that Baxter has kept teams from scoring an earned run.
Baxter had a shaky first inning but dominated the rest of the game, giving up just three hits and one unearned run while striking out 16 batters to help Palmyra beat Kelly 5-1 at Heritage Park.
Kelly finished 24-5, while Palmyra improved to 24-2.
Baxter had to work in the first inning after Kelly leadoff hitter Londyn Backfisch smashed Baxter's first pitch into center field for a single.
Backfisch then stole second and third to put herself in scoring position with no outs.
Kelly coach Rhonda Ratledge asked her next two hitters, Katee Moore and Haley Glastetter, to try to squeeze Backfisch home. But both Moore and Glastetter fouled off their first two bunt attempts and both went on to strike out looking.
"I don't think it's not so much what she [Baxter] did," Moore said. "It's what we didn't do. We failed to execute that. I will go back to that and say, 'Hey, I should have gotten that down.' But what can you do now? ... The first one I went for was a little outside. But I was told to put it down and I tried. The second one just popped back foul. It's the same thing with Haley. It was just a bad spin on the ball and we just failed to execute it."
Cleanup hitter Casey Kern stepped to the plate with Backfisch still at third and two outs. She struck out swinging, and just like that Baxter's streak continued.
"That was the most crucial chance in my eye because that would have brought their morale down [if Backfisch scored] and there is no telling what else we could have done that inning," Kern said.
Ratledge also looks back to the first inning as a big missed opportunity for her team. She said it at least would have put pressure on Baxter.
"I don't care what kind of pitcher is pitching," Ratledge said about her decision to call for the suicide squeeze four times. "When the opportunity was right there, I had a runner at third and it's usually always a definite run. ... I would rather have that than anything else.
"I don't know if [Baxter[']s] pitch was spinning so much. You noticed, [the pitches] dropped straight down. Haley, both of her dropped straight down. ... So I'm wondering what kind of spin that the little pitcher had on it."
The game went scoreless into the fourth. That's when the Palmyra offense came alive against Kelly pitcher Danielle Dock, who retired 10 of the first 11 batters.
With one out in the fourth, Palmyra's Jessica VanNostrand stroked the first hit of the game for her team. It was a single into left-center. A passed ball allowed VanNostrand to take second. She scored when Brittany White smashed a two-out double to left-center.
Kayla Wittler then singled home White to make it 2-0.
Palmyra's Macy Bross smashed a two-run home run over the fence in left field to give Palmyra a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning. She hit an outside fastball off Dock.
"I knew they were going to be a good hitting team," Dock said. "So I was worried where to put it and where not to put it. So obviously I didn't put it where I was supposed to. I don't know how I would rate my performance. I personally thought I should have thrown better. I had a feeling I should not have thrown that outside pitch to [Bross]."
Kelly staged a rally in the bottom of the fifth, scoring one unearned run. The inning could have been more productive, but the Hawks had a runner thrown out at the plate. Ratledge argued the call.
"You could see she was down and her foot came across the plate and the catcher was on the other side of the plate," Ratledge said. "I would like to see footage of that."
Kelly faced Baxter last year in the semifinals. Palmyra beat Kelly 7-0 in that contest as Baxter allowed just one hit while striking out 11.
Baxter, a junior, enjoyed another sensational season. She posted a 17-1 record with a 0.19 ERA and 262 strikeouts in 144 innings pitched through districts.
"I have to hand it to her," Ratledge said. "She pretty much kept us off our toes. And she had a team behind her that would hit."