HAMILTON, Mo. — Monroe City’s historic quest to reach the state softball Class 2 softball championship hit twin walls on Saturday as Penney downed the Panthers 10-3 in the semifinal game.
The combination of a torrid pitching performance by Penney’s ace, senior pitcher Julia Kanoy, who entered the game a 0.30 ERA, and uncharacteristic poor defensive play by Monroe city fielders, doomed the championship run.
“We knew she was their best pitcher, from the scouting reports,” Quinn said. “She is a fantastic pitcher, one of the better ones we have seen all year. She definitely kept us on our toes.”
Quinn added that she just did not see the same kind of fire in the eyes of her players that they showed in a 13-7 dismantling of Marceline in the quarterfinals last week to reach the Final Four.
“It was just nerves. None of these girls have been here before. It was a big deal. We just need to buckle down and do out jobs, and we just did not make that happen,” Chinn said.
Penney’s dominance started in the top of the first inning. Monroe City was home team buy virtue of a pregame coin toss.
Monroe City turned out in force for the historic gam with fans lining the field, which had no bleachers, in lawn chairs and standing from the third base side of the backstop around to right field, where most of the Panthers football team was cheering.
Panthers hurler Riley Quinn started the game throwing strong, striking out Penney’s leadoff hitter, Brighton Swindler, on five pitches, getting her to swing wildly at an off-speed pitch for the third strike.
The second hitter, Madi Allen, tagged a 1-2 fastball to the deepest part of centerfield, where Monroe City junior Carly Youngblood made an over-the-shoulder running catch at the fence, robbing Huff of at least a double.
That was the end of good news for the Panthers in the inning.
Quinn was one strike from ending the inning with the third hitter, Hayleigh Huff, who got a single on a 1-2 pitch.
Kanoy, who fouled a ball off her left hand, drew a walk. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch.
The cleanup hitter, senior Mary Brown, took hard 3-1 fastball down the right field line, for an opposite field double that scored Huff and Kanoy. Penney took a 2-0 lead, and never looked back.
As she prepared for the bottom of the first inning, Kanoy was having problems gripping the ball, as she the left-hander kept shaking her hand because of a stinger caused by her foul ball in the top of the first inning.
Her four warmup pitches were in the dirt. Youngblood batted first for the Panthers, drawing a four-pitch walk thanks to in-the-dirt pitches.
On the first pitch to Mackenzie Moss, Youngblood stole the first of three bases on the game. Kanoy, still having trouble gripping the ball, threw four straight pitches into the dirt.
With runners on first and second, Quinn came up the bat. Kanoy threw her ninth straight pitch advancing runners. Then, Kanoy found her grip, and started pitching a gem.
Quinn popped up in the infield for the first out, then her battery mate, catcher Bailee Hays, was punched out on a called third strike. Emily Friedank then hit a grouder to the shortstop, who threw her out at first.
Monroe City stranded two runners, losing an opportunity to strike back as three straight hitters went down.
Chinn said failing to score in the first inning was a pivotal point of the game for Monroe City and a confidence builder for Kanoy.
“She just shut us down,” Quinn said of Kanoy. “They (her players) were a little surprised that we did not get the contact like we normally do. This happened to be the game where were flat.”
In the top of the third inning, Penney senior Brighton Swindler drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to lead the inning. She stole second, advanced to third on a one-out single by Cheyenne Finton, and scored on a wild pitch, giving Penney a 3-0 lead after two-and-a-half innings.
Monroe City’s offense came to life in the bottom of the third inning. Youngblood beat out a throw to first base on a bunt. With one out, Quinn beat ouot an infield hit. The Panthers would add two runs thank to RBI hit by Hays and a fielder’s choice RBI by Friedank.
That was all the Monroe City scoring until the bottom of the seventh.
Penney broke the game open in the top of the fourth inning. Andee Angle opened the inning by reaching first base on a throwing error. Quinn issued a walk to the next batter, Lakelyn Shatto.
Quinn struck out the next two batters, but Allen nailed a two-out triple to deep center field, scoring Angle and Shatto. Allen scored on a wild pitch.
Penney took a 6-2 lead into the bottom of the fourth. From there, Kanoy showed why she entered the game with a 0.30 ERA, as her fastball overpowered Monroe City hitters.
The Hornets added four more runs, including a pair of towering homeruns, while Monroe City added a run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
After the game, Quinn told her players there was no reason to hang their heads.
“You can’t judge the season on one game,” Chinn said. “We made history for a school. We have never been before. It was a heck of a year. I told them after the game, it was pretty impressive to get third in the state. It was wild ride. It was a great season. It was fun. Our seniors were amazing. I am happy they took me on the ride with them.”
On Thursday at 5 p.m. in Springfield, Mo., Penney faces Father Tolton Catholic School of Columbia, which dominated Kelly 8-1 in the other Final Four game, for the Missouri Class 2 championship.