A wacky finish is perhaps the best way to describe the ending to Thursday’s Central Ozark Conference softball finale between Neosho and Republic at the Neosho Softball Field.
Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Neosho’s Lindsay Vance led off with a booming solo home run to dead center to tie the game. Then things got strange.
Cassie Dickens followed Vance at the plate and continued the rally as she beat out a slow-rolling grounder to second to give the Lady Wildcats a runner at first with no outs. Kylee Belcher followed with a well-placed sacrifice bunt. The throw to first, however, was mishandled by the second baseman covering the bag, allowing Dickens to race to third.
Hang in there. This story isn’t over yet.
On Belcher’s bunt, Republic’s third baseman correctly charged the plate in an attempt to make the play, leaving third base unoccupied. With the bag vacated the Lady Tigers’ catcher attentively sprinted down the line to cover the base.
Still, the play was hardly over. In the chaos that ensued, Lady Wildcats coach Brandi Arthur, who was coaching third base, noticed that both the catcher and third baseman were both at the base with no one covering home plate. As the throw from the second baseman went to the pitcher, Arthur ordered Dickens home.
All Republic could do was watch in disbelief as Dickens crossed the plate uncontested with the winning run to give the Lady Wildcats a 3-2 victory. The Lady Tigers were stunned. The Lady Wildcats were elated. One team cheered while the other scratched its head.
“That was a great game,” Arthur said. “They have a really good pitcher and we struggled getting on base. We just put the ball in play and let them make mistakes and they did. We did the things we needed to do to win this game.
“I knew when that catcher was standing next to me that Cassie is pretty fast. I knew she was definitely faster than the girl wearing all of that gear. I knew she could beat her (to the plate). The good thing was Cassie didn’t hesitate when I told her to go.”
Going into the top of the seventh inning tied 1-1, the Lady Tigers appeared to gain the upper hand when Lauren Strobel pounded a one-out double to center to score Molly Zinecker to make it 2-1. The hit left runners at second and third, but later in the inning a sharp grounder hit Republic runner Caty Eby in the leg in fair territory with two outs. The interference meant Eby was out and the Lady Wildcats escaped with limited damage.
Page 2 of 2 - That play loomed large in the end.
“The coaches and I have been telling them, ‘Girls, we’ve got to do the little things and believe that we can win,’” Arthur said. “I told them before the game that this was a game that we’re not supposed to win. Everybody’s already written the headline for this game. It’s already written, but it is winnable if we do the little things right, and we did.”
Neosho had some big hits in the game. Belcher’s bunt was one, of course, and so was Vance’s shot, but Bailey Spence got things rolling against Republic ace Rachel Rook in the fourth inning when she blasted a solo homer to tie it 1-1 after Republic took a 1-0 lead in the third.
After a rough start to the season, Thursday’s win drew the Lady Wildcats to 9-10 overall and closed their conference schedule at 4-3.
“That was a huge win for us,” Arthur said. “To finish 4-3 in the COC is huge. We’ve been telling them that this is possible, and I think that (the team is) finally believing us. We were at the corner a week or so ago, and we’ve made the turn now around the corner. It’s good to be playing this well this time of year.”
Emily Harrell, Spence, Dickens, Danielle Forkner and Vance each had a hit in Neosho’s five-hit attack. Spence earned the victory on the mound as she whirled seven innings, scattered eight hits, allowed two runs (none earned) with two walks and two strikeouts.
The Lady Wildcats play at 5 p.m. Monday at East Newton.