Lady Wildcats bound for first Final Four since 2005

Posted 10/25/23

Linn overcame a 6-0 deficit in Saturday’s Class 3 quarterfinal at home to defeat Elsberry 7-6 in eight innings on a walk-off hit. The win moves the Lady Cats to 22-6 on the year, and they will …

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Lady Wildcats bound for first Final Four since 2005


Linn overcame a 6-0 deficit in Saturday’s Class 3 quarterfinal at home to defeat Elsberry 7-6 in eight innings on a walk-off hit. The win moves the Lady Cats to 22-6 on the year, and they will play in this weekend’s Final Four at the Killian Softball Complex in Springfield.

“The girls know they can battle back from any situation, and I don’t have to do much as a coach,” said Coach Ryan Rost. “They know they’re never out of it. They’re always psyching themselves up, and even when we were down 6-0, they never showed any quit.”

Rost noted his players trust each other to get the job done. “We’ve hit well one through nine all year,” he said. “We get on base, and chances are the next person or the person behind that is moving them. They played us shallow because we hadn’t hit anything to burn them. Kenzy finally got extended on an outside pitch and hit it all the way to the fence.”

Kenzy Hackmann (2-5, RBI) had a feeling it would be a good at-bat ahead of the final pitch. “I just felt like a good pitch was coming,” she said. “My hitting coach has been teaching me how to hit outside pitches, and it was an outside pitch, and I took it to the opposite field.”

The walk-off was the second Hackmann has been part of this year. “We were confident the whole time,” she said. “We’ve done it before and knew we could do it again, and we did.”

To set the stage, Linn struggled early in the contest as Elsberry scored two in the first and four in the third. That didn’t prevent Voss from pitching her way.

“I knew I had a great team behind me who was always backing me up,” said Voss, who struck out five and walked one in eight innings. She allowed five earned runs on 10 hits. “Like Kenzy said, we have come back from a few runs before, so I knew we had it in us. It was only a matter of when it would happen. I have confidence and trust in my teammates.”

In the fifth, however, things got rolling for the Lady Cats, and in the bottom of the eighth, tied at 6-6, Ava Warren (2-4) drew a one-out walk, moving to second on a wild pitch. K. Hackmann stepped into the box and smashed the ball to right field for the game-winning single.

“It feels great,” said Hackmann of the opportunity to play in the Final Four. “Last year, we struggled a bit, so it feels great to finally come out this year, be successful, and show what great ballplayers we all really are. I’m just super excited for us.”

“Elsberry has a heck of a team, and they gave us everything they had,” said Rost. “It took us eight innings to get them, but I can’t say enough about this team, the way they fight and claw back and come through adversity.”

Even after catcher Kylie Peters was injured, the Lady Cats pulled together. “It’s awesome for this group to get a chance to play in the state championships, and I’m fortunate to be their coach.”

Dudenhoeffer (2-4, RBI) moved from short to catcher after Peters was hurt and later made a great double play after catching a pop-up and throwing to first to end the seventh.

She admits it took an adjustment. “It was very challenging because I haven’t caught in a hot minute,” said Dudenhoeffer. “In particular, you’re worried about not knowing the pitch signs. I finally got the hang of it. I just hope Kylie isn’t hurt too bad.”

Rost said he’s not surprised Elsberry scored early, though he would have preferred to respond in kind. “Looking at their record and stats, I knew this was going to be a battle,” he added. “Obviously, it wasn’t the start to the game that I was expecting or hoping for, but I knew it would come down to the end. You couldn’t ask for more storybook ending to a state playoff game.

“We had a couple of boneheaded plays, but after that, I talked to them and told them all we had to do was chip away,” Rost continued. “If we get in their heads, we can chip away and get back into the game.”

In the fifth, Linn took advantage of a walk to Kiana Hostetler and Emma Monnette (1-3) being hit by a pitch. Warren singled to load the bases, and two batters later, Dudenhoeffer singled to plate Hostetler.

Sophie Voss (1-3, RBI) singled home Monnette and kept the bases loaded. Paige Senevey walked home another run.

Heslie Higginbotham, running for Voss, scored Linn’s fifth run on a sac fly by Hannah Hackmann to make it a 6-5 game.

Voss got around a leadoff hit in the sixth to keep Linn within one run.

Monnette doubled to start the bottom of the sixth, and Warren delivered a single to put runners on the corners. Warren was caught trying to steal second, but K. Hackmann reached on an error that plated Monnette and tied the game.

H. Hackmann (1-4, RBI) singled to lead off the bottom of the seventh but was stranded.

Senior Katlyn Starke (RBI) said the key to the game was getting over the nerves. “It’s just like you’re playing competitive ball any other day, like in town ball or anything,” she said. “It’s just a normal game. It was important for us to win because we’ve worked on everything so much. It’s paying off in the long run and proves that hard work, motivation, and dedication can take you far.”

Dudenhoeffer added that she is excited most about going to the Final Four with her teammates. “Just being there for each other as a team and maybe having a chance at a state title is everything,” she said.

Linn will play Chaffee on Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the Killian Sports Complex in Springfield.

Linn defeated New Bloomfield 15-12 for the Class 2 District 3 Championship to reach the quarters.

Both teams kicked off the game, scoring five runs in the opening frame. After that, a shootout ensued, with Linn counting 17 hits compared to New Bloomfield’s 14.

Warren led with four hits, including a double and two RBI. Voss added two doubles and a triple in a 3-5 performance that saw her drive in three.

H. Hackmann also collected three hits, with a double, as she drove in three runs.

Monnette (2 RBI), Starke (RBI), and K. Hackmann each added two hits, and Dudenhoeffer had one.

Voss went the distance, striking out five and walking six, with 12 earned runs on 14 hits.