Lady Owls win first district title
When Marshall began its softball program in 2006, it was understood that success would not come immediately.
Going into their 12th campaign, the Lady Owls had never posted a winning record and the senior quartet had begun its career with 43 straight NCMC losses. But all that can be forgotten now and Marshall can display a district championship plaque in its trophy case.
"Oh, it is absolutely amazing!" declared senior Taylor Crawford, whose two-run first-inning homer sparked the Lady Owls' 6-2 victory over Chillicothe in the Class 3, District 13 Tournament final at Boonville. "Words can't even express how happy I am for my team and Marshall. It's going to be a big thing for our school."
Going into the season, third-year head coach Mike Varner felt he had something special with this group: a good mix of promising youngsters and savvy veterans, a balanced line-up with no easy outs, and -- especially -- senior leadership.
"They have done everything I've wanted them to do," Varner said, "and they have done everything they've wanted to do, which is great."
Junior Hannah Marshall pitched around an error and a walk that put runners on the corners with one out in the top of the first inning, and didn't have to wait long for run support. Marshall did what she has done all season: throw strikes at a 70-percent rate -- with five strikeouts and no walks -- to extend her school record win total to 13.
"That girl's been a fighter all season long," Varner said. "She just kept the ball where it needed to be ... and trusted the defense. Just trust the defense."
Marshall pitched the rest of the game with the lead, thanks to Crawford's two-out blast over the left-field fence after senior Ashley Dawson slapped a lead-off single.
The Lady Hornets didn't get a runner past first base during the next three frames while Marshall added to its lead in the third when Crawford drew a two-out walk and junior Avery Brooks slugged her first career homer.
Chillicothe kept battling, but gained no ground. Doubles by sophomore Jordan Hibner and senior Harlie Jones produced a run in the fifth, but senior Rileigh Massey answered with a dinger.
Sophomore Abby Jones doubled and scored when the Lady Owls threw the ball away trying to nail her at third base on a sacrifice bunt. However, the Lady Hornets (18-11) committed the same mistake when Lyssa Agcalon advanced on freshman Abbie Marshall's bunt.
"You can never tell," Varner said about quickly matching opponents' scoring, which his team did last year to beat Boonville in extra innings for a come-from-behind 18-15 victory. "You can't take a good team like Chillicothe for granted. That was a good ball club over there."
It was especially satisfying for Marshall to defeat the Lady Hornets after losing to them in last year's title game, when they scored four unearned runs in a five-run second inning for a 5-4 decision.
Marshall set down the side in order in the top of the seventh to touch off a madcap celebration. It was a joyous moment, but what the Lady Owls expected after coming so close a year ago.
"Absolutely," Crawford affirmed. "I was absolutely convinced we could come back here and fight to the top this time."
Even better, Marshall (18-8) will get to play at home for the sectional round Wednesday against Pleasant Hill, a 6-4 winner over Oak Grove in Saturday's District 14 final.
Are the Lady Owls going to be satisfied just getting to the play-offs?
"I think we're going to enjoy this for the next 48 hours and Monday we're going right back to work," Varner said.
Contact Chris Allen at email@example.com