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Central puts wraps on district title, hits the road
POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Maybe the third time will be the charm for the Central softball team.
Today, a day after winning a district championship, the Tigers will find out when they travel to play Seckman in the Class 4 sectionals.
"We made our goals at the beginning of the year that we didn't want to talk about districts," Central coach Amy Blattel said. "We wanted a step above that. We wanted to talk about sectionals."
With a 5-1 win over Poplar Bluff in the Class 4 District 1 final Tuesday, the Tigers (21-5) can officially talk about sectionals.
They didn't have much time to savor the moment with the next step less than a day away.
"The girls are excited but I think they realize also that the winner of this game has to play tomorrow," Blattel said.
After a long layoff before the district tournament -- which was postponed by rain late last week -- the Tigers will have to win three games in three days to reach the state tournament.
The last two years, Central came up a win shy of the trip to Columbia -- losing to Oakville 2-1 last year and Seckman 11-9 in 2000.
"We've played well but we've come up a little bit short," Blattel said. "We want to make sure we get done what we need to get done tomorrow."
Central got the job done Tuesday with an unearned run in the top of the first and two more runs in the third and sixth innings.
Senior Alex Wieser started the game with a shot up the middle for a single then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by freshman Susie Edwards. Wieser then moved to third when a pitch got far enough away from the Poplar Bluff catcher.
Mules hurler Lauren Ploetze then struck out the next two batters but the third out slipped away on a dropped third strike allowing Wieser to scamper home for the 1-0 lead.
Said Poplar Bluff coach Lisa Nippe of the first run of the game: "That hurt."
What hurt even more was that the Mules (16-11) had three hits in the bottom half of the inning but didn't score.
After Samantha Gaines started the inning with a bunt single, pitcher Megan McDonald and catcher Jessica Snell teamed up for a strike-'em-out-throw-'em double play as Gaines was gunned down trying to steal second.
Kristen and Lauren Ploetze each singled but Samantha Elliott started a relay from right field that gunned down Kristen at third trying to go corner-to-corner on her sister's single.
That seemed to take the wind out of Poplar Bluff's sail.
"We were hitting the ball well, we just couldn't string them together," Nippe said.
Poplar Bluff, playing in its first district final in nine years, had nine hits but scored its lone run in the sixth on a double to the right field gap by Kristen Ploezte. This after McDonald threw a no-hitter against Poplar Bluff back on Sept. 26 for a 10-0 win.
"I thought they were confident," Blattel said. "I thought they were playing well and executing the short game."
McDonald struck out eight and walked none in seven innings of work. In 19 innings against Poplar Bluff this year, the junior struck out 31 Mules.
Central added two runs in the third when Elliott led off with a single up the middle and Wieser followed with a double to center. A safety squeeze by Edwards scored Elliott while another dropped third strike allowed Wieser to score.
In the sixth, Central added two insurance runs when McDonald led off with a single to right and scored on Laura Beard's double to left. After Tara Ford bunted Beard to third, the senior scored on a grounder back to the pitcher for a 5-0 lead.
"We didn't overpower the ball when we were hitting, but we were putting it in play," Blattel said. "Anytime you put the ball in play, you force the defense to make plays.
"Sooner or later when you hit the ball hard, they're going to make a mistake."