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MCJHS claims softball championship

by Bennett Horne | May 11, 2023 at 9:50 a.m.
Photo submitted McDonald County's junior high girls softball squad captured the Big 8 West Conference championship on Friday, April 28, by defeating Cassville and East Newton. The team finished 12-4 overall and 8-3 in the Big 8 West.

CASSVILLE -- McDonald County Junior High's Lady Mustang softball team captured the Big 8 West championship by winning the tournament played on Friday, April 28, at Cassville.

"It feels amazing," said Lady Mustangs coach Ty Bohannan, who wrapped up his first season as head coach after being the team's assistant coach. "I could not have asked for a better group."

The junior high squad finished its season 12-4 overall and 8-3 in the Big 8 West.

The Mustangs topped East Newton, 9-4, in the conference tournament championship game after edging Cassville, 7-6.

"East Newton beat us 7-1 early in the season and everyone, including myself, wanted another shot at them because we felt like we didn't play our best in our first game with them," said Bohannan. "But we knew we had to beat Cassville first, a team we beat 7-0 a month prior. They gave us a great game, but we survived it and then took care of business in the championship. The conference has some very talented players -- especially pitchers -- so to win the conference made me very proud of everyone."

East Newton took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning of the title matchup, a lead that held up until the Lady Mustangs made some adjustments in the top of the third.

"We talked after the first time through the order that their pitcher was too good to let her get ahead in the count," Bohannan said. "So we made an adjustment to attack fastballs early in the count and not allow (their pitcher) to work ahead 0-1 and 0-2 in counts."

Following their coach's plan, the Lady Mustangs scored six runs in the third and three more in the fifth, the big blow in the fifth coming off the bat of Issy Moore in the form of an inside-the-park home run.

"East Newton tried to rally, but its momentum was killed by a phenomenal play in center field by Peyton Alumbaugh," said Bohannan.

A popup to first ended the game at 9-4 in favor of the Lady Mustangs.

McDonald County's 16-hit effort was led by Kearston Hopkins with four (three singles, one double), Kamryn Christie three (two singles, one double), Moore three (one single, one double, one home run) and Rayne Knox three (two singles, one triple).

Vanessa Zamora, Jayma Forcum and Peyton Alumbaugh added one hit apiece.

While McDonald County racked up 16 hits, East Newton was limited to five hits by Dakota O'Brien. She also gave up one earned run while walking seven and striking out three.

McDonald County 7, Cassville 6

The Lady Mustangs worked some magic on the base paths to pull out a 7-6 win over Cassville in the opening round of the tournament.

After Cassville tied it 6-6 in the top of the fifth inning (junior high games are only five innings long), Moore drew a leadoff walk in McDonald County's home half of the inning before moving to second and third on wild pitches.

"We had two outs with Issy on third," said Bohannan. "We worked all week on delay stealing home because we felt we had an advantage over Cassville on the base paths. After the first pitch, I told Issy to delay steal, and she executed it perfectly. A first for me -- a walk-off steal of home."

The Lady Mustangs trailed after the top of the first, 2-0, before scoring three runs in the bottom half of the inning.

After Cassville tied the game at 3-3, the Lady Mustangs rallied for a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the fourth, a rally triggered by a two-run triple off the bat of O'Brien.

The Lady Mustangs finished with seven runs on five hits and two errors while leaving three runners stranded on base.

Cassville scratched for six runs on eight hits while committing an error and leaving seven on base.

Lady Mustang batters Hopkins, Forcum, Patterson and Alumbaugh notched a hit each for McDonald County. Hopkins scored two runs and drew a walk and O'Brien drove in two runs. Moore scored twice and walked twice, while Forcum drove in a run. She and Zamora and Alumbaugh scored a run each, as did Rayne Knox on a sacrifice.

O'Brien pitched five innings for the Lady Mustangs, allowing two earned runs and eight hits while striking out three.

"Dakota O'Brien wasn't feeling her best all day and came out and pitched two complete games," said Bohannan. "Everything in softball starts with a pitcher who throws strikes, and she battled and was that person for us all season long."

O'Brien's tournament effort was apparently a characteristic displayed by the entire team throughout the season.

"I really liked their resiliency," said Bohannan. "Just like with any sport, there are major ups and downs over the course of a season. After losing to East Newton early on, we won our next four games by a combined 63-0. We felt pretty confident that we could compete with anyone. After an extra innings matchup with Marshfield, which we lost 3-1, we still had the confidence that we could play with the best. Then, we traveled to Logan-Rogersville and were run-ruled 13-3 in three innings. Good teams are able to stumble and use that as motivation and a learning opportunity, so I challenged them in the post-game to bounce back and to compete their tails off the rest of the season, which is exactly what we did."

He added, "They came to practice every day with the mentality that we were not going to let (bad losses) happen again, which is often hard, especially with junior high athletes. I could not be any more proud of them, though."

The coach said the way his team played in the tournament was "phenomenal," adding, "Aside from a half inning in the Cassville game, it was our best ball of the season, which is exactly when you want to be playing your best."

The team also remained focused on the task at hand, the coach said, even after having to sit and wait following the Cassville win.

"Something we preached all year was staying focused," Bohannan said. "We played Cassville first, and then had to wait around for over two hours before we played again, and I felt the focus that we held was ultimately what helped us win the conference. That focus was held together by some very strong leaders, both seventh and eighth graders who truly hate losing and did not want to lose to East Newton again."

He noted that the team's ability to "take coaching in the middle of a game" was another key.

"East Newton's pitcher dominated us the first time through the order, but once we made the adjustment to hunt fastballs early in the count, everyone joined in on the fun and we were hitting the ball tremendously," he said.

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