Editor's Note: For a second day, sports writer Tony Hawley will be in Springfield on Saturday tweeting from the Class 3 softball championship game. Follow his updates at @tony_hawley. Below is his write-up of Friday's semifinal.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Call her the Dragonslayer.
Racking up an amazing day at the plate, and throwing in an outstanding defensive play for good measure, Blair Oaks senior outfielder Sara Jones led the Lady Falcons to a 10-1 rout of the DeSoto Dragons in a Class 3 softball semifinal contest Friday.
Jones went a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate - including a two-run home run - drove in three runs, scored three times and stole two bases to propel the Lady Falcons into today's state championship game.
"That was huge," Blair Oaks coach Sharon Buschjost said. "It was a great performance by a most deserving player."
If you wanted to know what a perfect day it was, you needed to look no further than Jones' priceless reaction to her sixth-inning homer.
"She couldn't contain herself, and rightly so," Buschjost said.
Boasting an ear-to-ear grin as she raced around the bases, Jones said it was a moment to treasure.
"That was breathtaking, it was just so great," she said. "It's so fun personally, but it also feels so great to add some runs on the scoreboard for your team."
Adding runs wasn't a problem for Blair Oaks on Friday at the Killian Softball Complex. The Lady Falcons rapped out 14 hits and scored in five of the seven innings while leading from wire to wire.
Blair Oaks got two runs in the top of the first inning, and it started with - who else? - Jones. After she singled up the middle, Jolie Duffner followed with a bloop hit to left, and both later scored on a two-out triple by Taylor Markway.
"You would like to think your team could handle either start, whether you jump ahead or you get behind, but any coach would be lying if they didn't say it provided huge momentum (getting an early lead)," Buschjost said.
The Lady Falcons tacked on two more in the top of the third. Jones singled, stole second and scored when Duffner reached on an error; and Duffner later scored when Payton Staggs ripped a triple.
That was par for the course on a day where every Blair Oaks starter had at least one hit.
"One of DeSoto's coaches was very complimentary of the team when going through the (postgame handshake) line," Buschjost said. "The first comment out of her mouth was, "How do you get them to hit like that?' I can't say I'm the one who's getting them to hit like that, but hopefully we have one more game of hits left in us."
While the Dragons got their only run in the bottom of that inning on a walk, an error and a sacrifice fly, the Lady Falcons got right back to work in the third. Two more runs made it 6-1, and momentum was solidly on the side of Blair Oaks. LeeAnn Polowy rapped an RBI triple and Jones immediately followed with an RBI single.
"I made the comment to Sara's dad that the last several practices she's been swinging the bat unlike anything I've seen before," Buschjost said. "Just the acceleration to the ball and not trying to guide it."
The Lady Falcons made it 9-1 with three runs in the sixth. After a single by Paige Siebeneck and a double by Lauren Viessman, Polowy drove in one run with a sacrifice fly and Jones followed with her home run.
"I knew this whole trip (to Springfield) we were ready to go," Jones said. "Today was just the icing on the cake to come out in the first game of the Final Four and hit the way we did. It's very exciting."
Blair Oaks got its final run in the top of the seventh on an RBI single by Blake Burks. Burks, with two hits and one RBI, and Markway, with two hits and two RBI, joined Jones as players with multiple hits for the Lady Falcons.
Blair Oaks was also outstanding in the field. Jones made a great running grab in center field in the fifth and Paige Siebeneck matched it in left field in the sixth, Markway made two nice plays on popups from her catcher position, and Duffner made a slick play at shortstop in the second.
"I don't know if I've seen two better catches than what Sara made and what Paige Siebeneck made," Buschjost said.
All of that added up to plenty of support for Staggs, who was dominant in the circle. She limited DeSoto (28-3) to just four hits and struck out six.
The win means Blair Oaks (25-4) will shoot for its second state title at noon today. Standing in the way is no less than Centralia (26-2), the two-time defending state champions. The teams have met once already this season, with the Panthers taking a 1-0 decision in eight innings back on Aug. 29.
"It's tough to predict the outcome," Buschjost said. "They're a fantastic team that has been here and done that. We're going to make it as difficult as possible for them to get three in a row."