This Tigers softball team has accomplished something that no team Marceline side before it has achieved.
With a 15-8 victory versus Higginsville's Lafayette County (11-11) on Saturday evening, the Tigers are Springfield-bound. Marceline opens the state final four with a matchup with Palmyra.
Saturday's score was not indicative of just how good of a game it was. In the fourth inning, Marceline harbored a 6-2 deficit.
"We have such an explosive offense, and that's really big in these types of games," senior Marceline left fielder Ciarrah Bell said. "All around, (Lafayette County) is a really good team, and we learned early on how quickly big hitters can change a game. I give all of our girls credit for shaking it off."
By being on the bottom of the state bracket, Marceline was designated to host, although a pre-game coin flip ordained them the visiting team.
In the top of the first inning, Marceline loaded the bases with no outs and plated just one run when first baseman Jenna Elam grounded out but recorded an RBI.
A theme was established in the bottom of the inning when Husker bopper and first baseman Lexy Gash obliterated a three-run home run to left center. The bomb gave Lafayette County a 3-1 lead, and from that point onward, one could mistake Saturday's game for a product of the modern MLB. Gash was responsible for the grand slam that opened the massive 9-6 upset of undefeated Penney in the sectional game on Wednesday.
In total, six balls were mashed over the safety fence on Saturday.
Marceline got one of those runs back in the top of the third when Bell singled to score Abbey Kussman.
In the bottom of the third, Gash and Torye Sears hit back-to-back moonshots to give the Huskers their biggest lead of the evening.
Not to be outdone, Marceline senior cather Addy Schmitt roped a three-run shot in the top of the next inning. Shortstop Baylee Jobson continued the inning four batters later with a two-run double to take a 7-6 lead.
Lafayette County posted two runs in the bottom of the fourth, and, after regaining an 8-7 lead, would not score again.
As has been glaringly apparent in recent weeks, the Huskers learned the hard way that the middle part of the game is where Marceline shines. Lafayette County implemented three pitchers on Saturday night, and the Tigers found a way to dial in on each.
"We knew that they'd switch their pitchers a lot, because that's what they did against Penney," Jobson said. "They're not a lot of difference between any of them, and we knew we could hit the ball, so we did. They hit the ball very well against us, but we knew we could jump back just as fast as we got down.
"It kind of takes the monkey off our back, because from here, we know we have two games left no matter what."
Pulled from the circle in the third inning, senior pitcher Savanna Kelly remained in the game in favor of freshman Cassi Rodgers. A testament to the Tigers' head-up attitude, she whopped a go-ahead two-run home run in the fifth that would prove to be all the Tigers needed, giving them a 9-8 lead. Kenzie Stahl crossed the plate later in the inning, scoring from first on a steal attempt that resulted in an errant throw by Lafayette County's pitcher.
The sixth inning was one of the Tigers' trademark carousels. Jobson led of the inning with a moonshot to dead centerfield, and Marceline batted around and scored five -- its final home-soil runs of the season.
In total, Saturday night's game featured five lead changes.
"You had two teams that were on a roll at this time of the year," Lafayette County coach Darrall Jefferies said. "This was an exciting game on both sides, and there was great crowd support on both sides. This Marceline team is one that's very deserving of a trip to the final four, and so we're very happy for them."
In total, Marceline finished with 20 hits. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, the Tigers scored five, three, and six runs, respectively.
Lafayette County ended the game with 11 hits, and although three of them left the yard, Marceline coach Todd Lowther knew that his team was resilient enough to battle back.
Once Rodgers entered the game in the third inning, the Tigers gave up just two runs.
"They swung the bat well early, and they've got some good hitters," Lowther said. "If you can score nine runs against Penney's pitcher, you're obviously doing something right, so we knew we had a challenge. Tonight shows a lot of the toughness this group has, and the will they have to win. We get contributions from everybody. Addy Schmitt hit a three-run homer that might have won us the game. She hits ninth. Everybody from top to bottom is great for us, and that always gives us a chance.
"This win is right at the top for me in my career. Nothing can beat that, at least so far. At home, in front of a huge crowd like that, this one ranks number one, for sure."