WESTPHALIA, Mo. - A thrilling game came to an exciting end with a game-winning single off a Blair Oaks bat. Unfortunately for the Lady Falcons, it was in the hands of Fatima leadoff hitter Leah Kesel.
Kesel, a senior, is in the process of buying a bat from Blair Oaks pitcher Payton Staggs, who plays with Kesel for the Missouri Stealth in the summer. Kesel still has to pay Staggs for the bat, but Kesel made Staggs pay Wednesday night, using the bright orange bat to hit a pitch thrown by Staggs to left-center for a walk-off single.
The Lady Comets claimed an 8-7 win against Blair Oaks in a Class 2 sectional game.
Just a half-inning earlier, the Lady Falcons rallied from down 4-3 to take a 7-4 advantage into the bottom of the seventh. The Lady Comets matched them, plating four runs of their own and sending the home crowd into hysterics.
"It's just a rush of adrenaline, and I absolutely love the feeling," Kesel said.
It was the third hit of the day for Kesel, who also pitched, allowing five earned runs and striking out nine. She scored each of her first three trips to the plate.
"Leah came through huge at the end - something I know she can do, and she did it," Fatima coach Dana Scheppers said. "That's senior leadership right there, coming up to the plate knowing you can do it."
Kesel held Blair Oaks scoreless until the fifth inning, and she had three runs of support behind her. Michelle Barnhart scored Kesel in the first inning with a single in the third inning with a double. Kristen Boeckmann singled Barnhart home in the third as well.
The Lady Falcons erased the lead, however, with a three-run fifth. Carli Buschjost walked, Taylor Markway hit an infield single, Lauren Viessman drove in Buschjost with another single, and Jolie Duffner reached first on an error that allowed Markway and Viessman to score.
Before the inning ended, the Lady Comets took the lead right back. Kesel singled, Barnhart sacrified her to second, and Sammey Bunch singled her in. Morgan Brandt singled, Boeckmann walked, and Fatima looked poised to broaden its lead.
But Staggs struck out Makayla Buscher for her sixth of seven strikeouts, catcher Markway caught Bunch off the bag at third, and the Lady Falcons escaped a jam with a strike-"em-out, throw-"em-out double play.
"It was huge," Blair Oaks coach Sharon Buschjost said. "Taylor Markway had the green light to pick off runners and be selective, which she did, and that one was at the perfect time."
The 4-3 score held until the Falcons came to the plate in the top of the seventh with their season on the line. Left-fielder Macyn Wilbers began the inning with a fly-out to left that all but cleared the fence. Markway then shot a double under Barnhart's glove in center, Viessman singled Markway in, and Duffner singled.
Staggs made it four straight hits with a two-RBI single that Boeckmann misplayed in right field, allowing Staggs to reach third. Ashley Forck grounded out to drive in Staggs, the fourth run of the inning.
"We had a lot of hitters ready to get up there and put what they were hoping to be their best at-bat of the season for us, and they did," Sharon Buschjost said. "Things went our way in the top of the seventh, and they did everything I could ask of them."
But the Lady Comets still had a chance to respond, and they took advantage. Bunch led off the inning with a walk, Brandt doubled to drive in Bunch, and Boeckmann flew out to left. Then Buscher, a freshman who had struck out in all three of her previous plate appearances, hit a home run just past the left-field fence to tie the game.
Kate Massman singled, and Christine Brunnert struck out for the second out of the inning. Erica Fick singled, bringing Kesel up to the plate.
Orange bat in hand, Kesel drove in Massman, who scored the eigth combined run in the seventh inning. For the second time in the inning - Buscher's homer was the first - the Lady Comets formed a mob at home plate, and the Fatima half of the crowd erupted in cheers.
Kesel and Scheppers both said it was one of the best games they had been a part of.
"Holy moly," said Scheppers, who received a water-cooler dunking from her team. "I'm still in shock, I think, to be honest."
Cheers on in one dugout were mirrored by tears in another.
"Devastating," Sharon Buschjost said of the loss. "Not just for the seniors. For everybody. Devastating because the winner of this game has the potential to win it all, so they knew that's what was at stake. And when you not only lose but it's the end of your high school career, that hurts and hurts really bad."
The two teams met previously in a game played in two parts because of a rain postponement. The Lady Falcons won 7-6 on Sept. 25 with three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
"I think there's a lot of respect between the two teams and coaches," Sharon Buschjost said. "It's always a game that seems to be a close game, a very competitive game, a fight-to-the-end kind of game."
Blair Oaks ends the season with a 21-6 win and a Class 2 District 9 championship.
The Lady Comets go on to face the winner of Centralia (24-3) and Highland (22-4), which play today at 6 p.m. It is the third time in four years this Fatima senior class has reached quarterfinals.
"We're hoping to just get over that next hump and get Centralia or Highland, one of the two," Scheppers said. "These girls want it. Let's hope their want and drive is the same."