On October 7, 2016, the Festus Tigers softball team won a district championship on the field at Notre Dame High School that had more twists and turns than one could imagine. On October 6, 2017…they did it again…same place…same result.
When the Tigers defeated Windsor last year to win the district championship, very few folks would believe there could be more drama involved in a title game. But this 2017 drive to the championship, while different, provided as many ups and downs as its predecessor…and maybe more.
The Tigers defeated Lutheran South 10-5 to win the district championship and advance to sectional play on Wednesday at Sunset Park against St. Francis Borgia. This is the first time in program history that Festus has won back-to-back district titles. Prior to last year, the Tigers hadn’t won a district championship since 2012.
“I’m proud of the entire team,” said head coach Jeff Montgomery. “After the game it was so fun to see the players, coaches, parents, and fans feeling so proud. These kids have worked so hard to get to this point…they deserve it.”
Proud was not the only emotion felt during the game. The way it started, Festus fans were down right anxious. After two scoreless innings, the Lancers got on the board in the third inning. After two base hits, the Lancers’ Abby Frankenreiter clobbered a home run over the center field fence to give Lutheran South a 3-0 lead. Tiger pitcher Cailey McFadden (11) gave up a base hit after that home run, but then steadied herself and got the next three hitters to get out of the inning with no further damage.
And then her teammates picked her up with a run in the bottom half of the inning. Abby Rickermann (10) led off with a double, and Erica Fletcher (11) moved her to third with a ground out. Sara Hoffman (12) then grounded to second, and Rickermann scooted home and it was 3-1 Lancers after three innings.
Both teams were retired in the fourth, but Lutheran South regained control of the game in the fifth inning. With two outs and an 0-2 count, Lauren Beier crushed a ball over the center field fence to make it 4-1. The Tigers only had three innings to try to overcome that deficit, and had managed only five hits up to this point off Lancers’ hurler Lilah Halveland.
But as they have shown time and time again this season, this Tigers team has no quit in them. “We talked about making adjustments in the fifth inning,” noted Montgomery. “They were staying away from us on the outer half of the plate. The kids learned from each at bat and put it to work late in the game.”
To lead off the fifth, Emilie Gibbar (12) walked. Lutheran South brought Beier in to pitch. Rickermann, then, bunted and reached base safely, moving Gibbar to second. Fletcher then hit a shot to third that couldn’t be handled, and in the process of trying to get an out, Gibbar scored to cut the lead to 4-2. Then, with Hoffman at the plate, Rickermann sped home on a wild pitch to make it 4-3. On the next pitch, Hoffman singled to center. Fletcher held at third, but Hoffman slid in safely at second base on the throw.
Kaylee Williams (12) then sent a pitch into center field that cleared the fence with plenty of room to spare for her third home run of the season, and the Tigers had a 6-4 lead and still no outs. The hits kept coming…McFadden singled up the middle, and then Tristan Foulk (9), who had hit a home run in the semifinal game against Notre Dame, uncorked a line drive home run to right field to give the Tigers an 8-4 advantage. All this damage done with nobody out…and Breanna Patek (12) would walk after Foulk’s homer, but Halveland, who came back in to pitch, finally retired the Tigers.
The game wasn’t over…but it really was. The Tigers were sky high, and Lutheran South was struggling to keep it together. Hoffman came in to pitch the sixth inning and retired the Lancers 1-2-3. And then the Festus bats went back to work in their half of the inning.
Hoffman led off with a single, but was eliminated on a double play. So with two out and nobody on, McFadden doubled to the left-center gap. Then Foulk stepped up again, and blasted another home run to center field to give the Tigers a 10-4 lead. It was Foulk’s fifth home run of the season.
The Lancers got a run off Hoffman in the seventh, but it was purely cosmetic. The Tigers were not to be denied, and when McFadden safely secured a deep drive to center field for the final out, the Tigers were district champs.
“It really was a repeat of last year’s performance in many ways,” said Montgomery. “We had to grind out at bats with the game in the balance. Time and time again our kids came through. It was a testament to their passion and desire to win. I think last year’s experience also helped. It is a special group that doesn’t quit or get rattled.”
Montgomery had praise for his pitching tandem, as well as his home run hitters. “McFadden was key by keeping her composure and staying focused after falling behind. She gave us a couple quality innings and then allowed it to be passed on to Hoffman. Sara is such a competitor…you could see it in her eyes that she wanted the ball and the game was basically over. I’m proud of them both. I think they knew it would take both of them to get it done. And I just can’t say enough about Williams and Foulk. What they did today is just amazing, hitting three home runs between them.”
Details are still being finalized for the game on Wednesday, but it is certain the sectional game will be played at Sunset Park, and St. Francis Borgia is the opponent. Festus is 18-8 while Borgia is 18-6 after defeating Union in their district championship game. We’ll have more information as it becomes available.