VERSAILLES — It was a battery-powered win for the Blair Oaks Lady Falcons.
Catcher Ellie Kliethermes and pitcher Alexis Findley each hit a solo home run, and the batterymates worked together for 12 strikeouts Saturday afternoon, leading Blair Oaks to a 3-0 win against the Fatima Lady Comets in the championship game of the Class 3 District 5 Tournament at Audrey J. Walton Field.
The Blair Oaks bats have heated up as the weather has gotten colder. The Lady Falcons hit seven of their 22 home runs this season during their three district tournament games.
"Our bats have been alive and have been doing pretty well for us," Blair Oaks coach Sharon Buschjost said. "We hope it continues."
Saturday's game marked the sixth time in the past seven years Blair Oaks and Fatima have met in the postseason. The exception was last season, when Fatima was in Class 2 and Blair Oaks moved up to Class 3.
"We both bring it when we meet in the postseason," Fatima coach Dana Scheppers said. "It just stinks that we have to meet in districts."
With a strong wind blowing toward the outfield, Kliethermes pulled a 1-1 pitch over the right-center field fence for her first home run of the season, putting Blair Oaks ahead 1-0.
"Ellie has hit the ball really well, and she's hit the ball hard," Buschjost said, "but she got tired of hitting it 199 feet. She just wanted one to go the distance. To start the game with that was impressive."
Findley's home run came on a 1-0 changeup to lead off the fourth. Her deep blast to left field was her fifth homer of the season and made the score 2-0.
"She had one heck of a day in the circle and at the plate," Buschjost said.
Kliethermes and Findley took different approaches to their at-bats regarding the wind.
"When I went into the batter's box, I wasn't worried (about the wind)," Kliethermes said. "I wasn't thinking about anything other than, 'I just need to get a hit.'"
"I usually think about that before the game," Findley said of the wind. "I knew (Chayce Gier) was throwing changeups and I knew the umpire was calling strikes on them, so I knew if I saw one, I needed to swing at it."
Aside from the two homers, Gier only allowed four other hits against the Lady Falcons. The Fatima junior pitcher had retired nine straight batters prior to Findley's blast and worked around some jams, stranding three runners at third base.
"I thought she did an excellent job," Scheppers said of Gier. "I thought she kept them off-balance."
Findley struck out nine of the first 11 batters she faced and retired 16 consecutive Fatima hitters. Chesney Luebbering hit a leadoff bloop single in the second inning, but Findley struck out the next three hitters she faced.
"The confidence that she has given the coaching staff and the confidence she has given the team, it was just a great performance by her and a well-deserved win," Buschjost said of Findley, who pitched her sixth shutout of the season.
Blair Oaks added an insurance run in the fifth. Anna Hankins and Kliethermes hit back-to-back singles, then advanced a base on a sacrifice bunt. Delaney Skinner, who entered as a pinch-runner for Hankins, scored on a groundout by Findley to make the score 3-0.
Fatima threatened to score in the top of the seventh. Londyn Stuckenschneider hit a one-out single, then Hannah Heisler drew a two-out walk. Lauren Brandt followed with an infield single to load the bases, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate.
"I was really hoping for one more hit right there," Scheppers said.
Buschjost made a quick trip to the pitcher's circle before the next Fatima batter stepped to the plate.
"I told them to just continue what we're doing and just make pitches," Buschjost said.
Findley responded by tossing three consecutive strikes to end the game, giving Blair Oaks — the No. 2 seed in the district — its 14th district title in the past 15 years.
"I knew I needed to buckle down with Ellie and get the job done," Findley said.
Blair Oaks left fielder Madi Boessen had a play earlier in the seventh that proved to be crucial, making a running catch on a ball hit down the line for the second out of the inning. Had that ball dropped fair, it could have led to a big inning for the Lady Comets.
"That was a defensive game-changer," Buschjost said. "I wanted to call timeout and go out and let her know how big of a catch and play that was."
Other hits for Blair Oaks included a single by Andi Siebeneck in the fourth and a leadoff double by Kadence Kliegel in the sixth.
Gier struck out three and walked one for Fatima, which finishes the season with a 14-12 record. The Lady Comets, the No. 4 seed in the district, had to hold off Nevada in the first round and upset top-seeded California in the semifinals to reach Saturday's game.
"Playing those games helped us move along and get more experience," Scheppers said.
With only eight districts in Class 3 this season, Blair Oaks (23-6) advances to the state quarterfinals, where it will face another familiar opponent, the Centralia Lady Panthers. The game is scheduled for Wednesday in Centralia, with the start time to be determined.
"This is going to be a big game," Kliethermes said.
Centralia (17-12) won the District 6 championship Saturday morning, defeating Boonville 9-1.
Blair Oaks no-hit Centralia for a 10-0 win in its season opener Sept. 2, but Buschjost was quick to point out a lot can change for a team in a month and a half.
"Centralia is on a roll and so are we," she said. "We'll see who comes out on top."