The Hannibal softball team overcame adversity to put Fulton away 3-1 on Thursday to advance to the Class 3 District 8 championship.
There was a familiar face for the Hannibal softball team tossing pitches in the bullpen immediately following the top of the first inning.
It was the Lady Pirates starting pitcher, Desarae Garcia.
Fulton’s first three hitters reached base Thursday to put the Lady Pirates in an early 1-run hole in the Class 3 District 8 semifinals at Veterans Sports Complex. Garcia limited the damage and stranded three Lady Hornet runners to escape further trouble, yet she still wasn’t pleased.
“I was getting frustrated because my pitches weren’t working,” the senior admitted. “I went out there to fix it and tried to be ready to help my team out and fight.”
The Hannibal hurler didn’t allow another run the rest of the night, striking out seven batters during a complete-game performance to help the Lady Pirates to a 3-1 victory.
Hannibal, the No. 2 seed, advances to face top-seeded Mexico at 1 p.m. on Saturday for the district championship.
Mexico defeated 2016 district champion Warrenton 2-0 in the first semifinal Thursday.
The Lady Pirates offense didn’t take long to provide Garcia support.
Olivia Pfeifer led off the bottom of the first inning with her eighth triple of the season and came home on a sacrifice fly by freshman Taylor Simms.
Pfeifer's three-bagger tied the school record for a single season.
“We definitely bounced back,” Pfeifer said. “I think if we wouldn’t have scored that inning, it would have been a different outcome.”
A gutsy at-bat by junior Josie Zeiger helped Hannibal take the lead in the bottom of the third. The Lady Pirates No. 3 hitter turned the ninth pitch she saw into an RBI groundout to score Pfeifer for the go-ahead run.
B3: @maejosiee guts out tough at-bat for RBI groundout to put Lady Pirates ahead 2-1. pic.twitter.com/bIrOysisEi— Courier-Post (@HCP_Sports) October 6, 2017
Lauran Haye followed that with a single to left that scored Simms to grow Hannibal’s lead to 3-1.
“Lauran has a lot of clutch hits and she’s definitely one of the hitters to be in the spot when we need a run,” Pfeifer said.
B3: Lauran Haye comes through in the clutch with an RBI single. Hannibal leads 3-1. pic.twitter.com/OwI3TM98dN— Courier-Post (@HCP_Sports) October 6, 2017
Pitching held each offense scoreless from the fourth inning on.
Garcia struck out a pair and worked around a 2-out single to preserve the Lady Pirates’ advantage in the top of the fourth. Fulton starter Taylor Kettle shut Hannibal down in order in the bottom of the frame.
The Lady Hornets were buzzing in the top of the fifth with runners on first and third and nobody out.
Garcia locked in and shut them down, winning lengthy battles against the next two Fulton hitters while her defense showed off behind her.
On the ninth pitch of the next at-bat, Garcia induced a popout off the bat of Paige Clines.
Her seventh pitch to Haden Trobridge led to a fielder’s choice to Pfeifer. The shortstop threw a bullet to catcher Hailey Whittaker who tagged out the Lady Hornets’ lead runner for the second out.
“At first, I bobbled it, and my team helped me out and said she was going home so I just quick threw it and we got an out,” Pfeifer said. “It worked out.”
Zeiger snagged a sharp 2-out liner near second base to help the Lady Pirates through the fifth-inning predicament.
“I’ve got to do what I can to make the right pitches and get ‘em in the right spots to help my team out, and I know they have my back,” Garcia said.
Kettle matched zeroes with Garcia over second half of the contest. The sophomore retired 10 of the final 11 Lady Pirates she faced.
Garcia needed just nine pitches to navigate through a scoreless sixth to move the Lady Pirates three outs away from their second consecutive berth to the district title game.
Garcia got Clines to bite on an inside fastball for a game-ending strikeout to cap a 1-2-3 seventh.
The Hannibal Lady Pirates are heading back to the district championship. pic.twitter.com/5Wne9XRbZz— Courier-Post (@HCP_Sports) October 6, 2017
“We kept it together really good,” Pfeifer said. “The whole game was pretty much a nail-biter. We could have easily let them come back in, but we didn’t. We played really solid on defense and got the hits we needed and the runs.”
Up next for Hannibal is a Mexico team it has lost to by one run on two separate occasions this season. The Lady Pirates lost the first meeting against the Lady Bulldogs 2-1 in eight innings Aug. 31 and also fell 5-4 on Sept. 27.
Hannibal coach Kendra Murphy is confident her team has what it takes to make the third time the charm against Mexico.
“We’re battle-tested,” Murphy said. “We know way too well what it’s like to play in tight, close games. Being down early is something we’re used to, and so being able to answer back was huge.”