WARDSVILLE -- The calendar may have said it was Sept. 29, but Thursday night’s game at the Falcon Athletic Complex resembled late October softball.
One swing of the bat determined the game’s fate in the pitchers’ duel. Baley Rackers slapped an RBI double to center field in the bottom of the third inning, then scored on an overthrow as the Blair Oaks Lady Falcons won 2-0 against the Fatima Lady Comets.
The matchup between the Class 3 No. 5 Lady Falcons and the Class 3 No. 1 Lady Comets felt more like a postseason matchup than a regular-season rivalry.
“I think both teams knew coming into it that that’s what it was going to be like,” Blair Oaks coach Sharon Buschjost said. “It was a fun, intense, close game.”
Adding to the rivalry was a potential No. 1 seed in next month’s District 5 Tournament in Sullivan.
“Knowing what we know about Sullivan and what we know about Fatima, I felt like this game was huge for so many reasons,” Buschjost said. “But one of the biggest reasons was the district seed implications.”
Fatima pitcher Taylor Baumhoer retired the first six batters she faced. So naturally, Blair Oaks decided to play a little small ball as Chesney Luebbering stepped to the plate in the third inning.
There was no need for Buschjost to give the bunt sign to Luebbering.
“After she got ready, she said, ‘Hey, coach?’ and I just nodded, ‘Yes,’” Buschjost said. “She laughed and we knew what that meant, that, ‘Yes, you can (bunt).’
“We were on the same page, for her to put down a bunt and make them make a play.”
Luebbering got the bunt down on the second pitch and made it to first base on a fielding error. However, the next two Blair Oaks batters fouled out on a bunt attempt and struck out.
Rackers, a left-handed slap hitter, came to bat for the Lady Falcons. Fatima brought its middle infielders near the pitcher’s circle to try to take away the infield single from the speedy Rackers.
She opted to hit the ball over everyone’s head instead, including the drawn-in outfielders.
With Luebbering stealing on the 0-1 pitch, Rackers slapped the ball into deep center field for a double. Rackers never slowed down, scoring all the way from first base to give Blair Oaks a 1-0 lead.
“She was going home, no matter what,” Buschjost said.
As Luebbering scored, the ball was cut off on the relay from the outfield, and the Fatima defense caught Rackers between second and third base. But the throw to get her at third base went into foul territory, and Rackers was able to score easily for the Lady Falcons’ other run.
Buschjost said this is Rackers’ first season as a slap hitter.
“She is very new to it and has done a great job,” Buschjost said. “We’re trying to get her to read defenses as well, but we have just been emphasizing that her percentage of getting on at first is much greater when she puts the ball on the ground versus in the air.
“Having said that, I think any slapper’s eyes are going to light up when they see the outfield like it was, and I know she enjoys trying to muscle up and hit one.”
Baumhoer pitched a three- hitter, but the two errors led to a pair of unearned runs for Blair Oaks. Fatima committed four errors in the loss.
“You can’t make errors, because those errors just compound it,” Fatima coach Ashlee Schnieders said. “They won a game on a baserunner that got on because of an error, and then we make a couple more and they score more runs.
“It changes the momentum.”
It was a 2-0 Blair Oaks lead, but the game never felt safe until the final out for the Lady Falcons.
“Their bats are so potent,” Buschjost said of Fatima.
The Lady Comets connected on several balls thrown by Blair Oaks pitcher Olivia Moyer, but they either just missed the sweet spot of the bat or were held up by the wind blowing in toward home plate.
“There were some off the bat that I thought had a chance to do damage,” Buschjost said.
Of Fatima’s 21 outs, 10 were flyouts, including six to the outfield.
“We definitely missed quite a few,” Schnieders said. “I’ve got some really great hitters. There were many that were just right there.”
Fatima only went down in order twice in the game, constantly applying the pressure on Blair Oaks. Moyer was able to work out of every jam, never allowing a baserunner past second base.
“She has shown us that ability, but if you ask her, she would rather not be in that position to begin with,” Buschjost said with a laugh. “Both pitchers had to work with a consistent, tight strike zone, which makes you work extra hard.”
Moyer struck out two batters in the first six innings. She struck out the side in the seventh to end the game, and one of those strikeouts came on a nine-pitch at-bat that ended with the batter swinging at Moyer’s changeup in the dirt.
“She didn’t throw that changeup very much tonight,” Buschjost said. “… I was proud of her for being brave enough to throw that pitch. And that was a great block by Julie Braun.”
Braun made her second start of the week behind the plate for the Lady Falcons, filling in for Kally Bruce, who is sidelined with a rib injury.
“I’m sure there were nerves, but she’s not unfamiliar with the catcher’s spot,” Buschjost said of Braun. “I know for our high school team, she hasn’t had action there, but she’s a catcher on her travel team.”
Moyer and Baumhoer each threw a three-hitter. Moyer had two walks to go with her five strikeouts, while Baumhoer struck out nine without yielding a walk.
Faith Jaegers, Kinzey Woody and Baumhoer each had a single for the Lady Comets.
“You can’t leave six runners on base against a good team like that,” Schnieders said.
Emma Wolken singled in the third and Taylor Groner doubled in the fourth for Blair Oaks’ remaining two hits.
The loss snaps a 14-game winning streak for Fatima, while Blair Oaks extended its winning streak to 12 games.
“Two good ballclubs on win streaks, someone had to lose tonight,” Schnieders said. “… If you don’t score runs, you’re not going to win.”
Both teams will be back in action today at the Kewpie Classic in Columbia.
Blair Oaks (18-5) will play St. Joseph Central at 1 p.m. and Sedalia Smith-Cotton at 2:45 p.m. Fatima (20-3) has pool-play games against Class 3 No. 2 Fulton at 1 p.m. and Park Hill at 2:45 p.m. All games will be played at Antimi Sports Complex.
It’s also possible for Blair Oaks and Fatima to face each other again Saturday during bracket play.
“They’re always good, we’re always good, and it’s usually a great game,” Buschjost said. “Luckily, we came out ahead in this great game.”
Blair Oaks also won the JV game 3-2 to improve to 12-3.
Kristen Robertson had an RBI single in the first inning and Avery Brandt added an RBI double in the fourth to give Fatima a 2-0 lead.
Blair Oaks scored its runs in the bottom of the fourth, as Haley Klebba had an RBI single, Bria Boessen scored on a wild pitch to tie the game and Klebba scored on another wild pitch to give the Lady Falcons the lead.
Ava Willson had two of Blair Oaks’ four hits. She was also the winning pitcher, striking out seven and walking one in five innings.
Brandt pitched four innings for Fatima, striking out eight and walking three.