Battle, Bruins, Blazers and … Kewpies? The softball regular season is over and Columbia’s high school squads are preparing for district tournaments and possibly beyond this week.
Hickman hosts Rock Bridge and Battle in the Class 4 District 8 tournament. The trio of crosstown rivals will duke it out with Jefferson City and Smith-Cotton for the central Missouri crown. Rock Bridge and Hickman own a first-round bye as the top-seeded teams, but Battle will play on the first day against Smith-Cotton.
Tolton will travel to Mokane, Missouri, where South Callaway hosts the top-seeded Trailblazers in the Class 2 District 7 tournament.
Each Columbia team has bright and dark aspects of its play. Here is a look into what each team will need to work on if they don’t want an early postseason exit. The district tournaments started Wednesday and continue through Saturday.
The Spartans showed glimpses of talent throughout the season. After a lopsided 12-2 loss to Mexico early in September, the team took revenge and made a statement with a 9-1 win against the defending Class 3 champions Oct. 2. Battle also carded 11 runs in a win against a 20-win Sullivan squad.
The team has a strong but spotty pitcher in Mya McCubbin. The junior’s length makes it tough to pick up her release point and time up her motion. But McCubbin has struggled when she hits the third or fourth time through the lineup, though, after giving opposing batters more looks at her pitches. When the junior hurler is on, she is very tough to hit.
But with the ups, come the downs. The Spartans won three one-run games to lackluster teams: Park Hill South, Kirksville and Monett. They went 0-3 against the district teams seeded higher than them and 5-7 against teams with more wins.
Perhaps the game that’s defined Battle’s season thus far came in its home tournament, the War on the Battlefield. The Spartans led 2-0 going into the final inning against 2018 Class 4 State Champions Blue Spring South. McCubbin had thrown a gem to that point, but a walk and a bloop hit turned the tide, and Battle lost a 3-2 heartbreaker.
Despite the tough losses, Battle has been competitive in almost every game. Seven of the Spartans’ 12 losses have been decided by three runs or less. If the team in navy and gold can find a better way to close games, it will be a tough opponent, because it has the skill and experience in close games to play spoiler.
The Spartans kick off the tournament Wednesday against Smith-Cotton. Battle’s only two regular-season district wins came against its Game 1 foe. The Tigers have not challenged Battle much yet, losing 11-3 and 10-0 in the contests. Counting this season’s wins, the Spartans have won nine straight contests over Smith-Cotton, dating back to September 2014. The first pitch is at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Kewpies fans have traveled well all season, but the Hickman faithful will not have to go far to watch their squad compete for the district title. Hickman’s Kent Fewell Field has been selected as the host for this year’s district tournament.
Much of Hickman’s success in the postseason depends on its bats. The Kewpies lost by an average of 2.6 runs in five of their six losses. The outlier came in a 17-6 loss at the Troy tournament back in August.
Hickman hitters have shown promise, exploding for 10 runs or more in six of their 16 wins. The top half of Hickman’s batting order is especially talented; the Kewpies field a gauntlet 1-through-5. Freshman Lucy Hurtado leads off, sporting a sky-high on-base percentage thanks to her ability to draw walks. If two-hole hitter Avery Throckmorton doesn’t hit her in, Abby Hurtado, Lucy’s sister, will — she thumps the ball to every corner of the diamond. Athena Wheeler and Emily King pack a powerful 1-2 punch in the cleanup and 5-hole.
Hickman’s pitching has also been reliable this year. Led by Abby Hurtado, a senior, the staff has conceded a measly 2.9 runs per game, outscoring its opponents 149-66. If the trend continues, the Kewpies should be able to count on the arm in the circle for a quality start.
If Hickman has a weak spot, it appears when it’s facing tough competition. Rival teams struggle to put out the experience and depth that Hickman has, but against other Class 4 teams, the Kewpies are 5-4. That may not seem that bad, but it is a little shaky for a team that starts seven seniors. Hickman needs to figure out how to deal with big schools if it wants a strong showing in the playoffs.
The opening game poses a tough start for the hosting Kewpies. During the regular season, Hickman scraped together a 6-5 win over Jefferson City (13-9) at home. The Jays are 3-3 on the road and Hickman is 9-1 at home. The Kewpies will put the record to the test at 7 p.m. Thursday at home.
Rock Bridge (23-6)
The Bruins are conceivably the most well-rounded team in Columbia, earning the No. 1 seed in Class 4 District 8. Rock Bridge is riding a seven-game win streak entering the tourney, not allowing more than three runs in a single game in that stretch and scoring more than 10 runs in each of its last six games. The Bruins have played and defeated every other team in the tournament, not allowing more than one run to any of their opponents.
Rock Bridge’s dominance starts with pitching. A starting rotation of Ella Schouten and Maren Jones shut out opposing teams 11 times in the 2019 season. The pair have allowed more than five runs in only four games. Schouten is also coming off a perfect game Oct. 12 against Webb City. The junior struck out 11 batters in the contest.
A powerful lineup accompanies the Bruins’ commanding defense. From the speedy leadoff hitter Maddie Snider to the patient, pinch-hitting Camryn DeVore, every spot in the order is dangerous. Madison White sits in the middle of the order as one of its most intimidating hitters. In one game against St. Francis Borgia, the senior was 3-for-3, hit two homers, scored three runs and batted in four over seven innings. White added a stolen base in the performance for a nice cherry on top.
Rock Bridge will play the winner of Battle and Smith-Cotton at 5 p.m. Thursday. The Bruins have played and beaten both teams during the regular season, not allowing a run in either game.
The Trailblazers also have the potential to make a very deep postseason run. Tolton does not have a glaringly bad loss in the season — each of its three defeats came at the hands of teams with 16 or more wins.
In Paige Bedsworth, Tolton has one of the most dominant pitchers in Class 2. Bedsworth has five no-hitters and a perfect game this season. The pitching staff as a whole has allowed only 1.4 runs per game.
Tolton’s downfall lies with its inability to provide run support for its all-state pitcher. The Blazers have only scored 4.3 runs per game. Tolton hitters have failed to score in only one game but have scored three or fewer runs in eight games. Bedsworth doesn’t have quite the prowess in the box as she does on the rubber, but the righty occupies the three-hole skillfully. Earlier this season, she led the team against Hallsville, going 2-for-3 with two doubles.
Tolton will rely on Bedsworth to carry the team through the playoffs, but real success hinges on whether the rest of the team can step up.
A lack of tournament experience may also affect the Trailblazers. Tolton has only participated in one tournament this season and ended its regular season with three “W’s” in Rolla’s tournament against Waynesville, Webster Groves and Willard.
If the Blazers can overcome their scoring woes and tournament inexperience, they have the potential to contend for a sectional or even state title.
Bedsworth and Tolton will start their postseason push at 5 p.m. Thursday when they take on the winner of Hallsville and North Callaway. The Trailblazers defeated Hallsville in September by a score of 5-0, but have not played North Callaway this season.