In the first round of the 4A State softball tournament, Booneville had three opportunities to establish a lead over the host team, Monticello. They left four runners in scoring position over the first six innings and Monticello cashed in on the one chance they had. That was enough to send the Lady Cats back home on the short end of a 1-0 decision.
Ashdon Ross fired a two-hitter, striking out nine, but in the end was outdueled by the Lady Billies’ Hailey Ryburn, who scattered four hits. “Ashdon pitched a great game,” said coach Doc Crowley. “We just couldn’t get the hit when we needed it.”
It was the last game for senior Morgan Osborne, who became the first Lady Cat softball player to be a four-time letter winner. “She’s been dedicated,” said Crowley. “(Morgan) showed up at every practice and did what she needed to do.”
The first chance for Booneville came in the bottom of the first inning when Osborne walked, stole second and went to third on Hannah McClung’s ground ball, but she was stranded there. The fourth inning saw Kaitlynn Davis collect the first hit of the game by either team with a one-out single. Carley Wooldridge then hit it back to Ryburn, but the throw to force Davis eluded the second baseman. Both runners moved up on a Mariah Reagan grounder but Taylor Bauer grounded out to second to end the inning.
Ross doubled with two out in the fifth but was left there. The Lady Billies got their first hit in the top of the sixth when Hope Higginbotham laid down a bunt single but after the next batter was retired, Ryburn lined out to Reagan who threw to Wooldridge for the double play. In the bottom of the sixth McClung led off with a single to left and took second on a Davis ground ball. Wooldridge and Reagan then both hit the ball very hard, but each was right at Higginbotham in center field.
In the top of the seventh, Brianna Smith walked for MHS with one out and stole second. Ross struck out Jade Pace but Maggie Hand dropped one into left field to score Smith without a play. The Lady Cats had to score in the bottom of the inning to keep it alive, and with one out Camry Robertson lined a single to left. Jaycie Rodatz squared to bunt but it went into the air, and Ryburn made a diving catch. Robertson was caught off first and was doubled up to end the game.
Ross struck out nine on the day while allowing just two hits, giving her 176 on the season. She finished with an earned-run average of 1.46 and a record of 22-8. She was also the leading batter at over .460; McClung was over .400 and Wooldridge and Osborne each eclipsed the .350 mark. Those last three each had over 20 RBIs with McClung leading at 27. The Lady Cats ended the season 24-9, playing 31 of their 33 games on the road.
The team accomplished a lot this season. In addition to their second straight state tournament bid, they won the Clarksville tournament and finished as the top seed in the regular season conference race. They were district and regional runners up and were the only team to defeat Mena at Union Bank Park, the home of the red and black Ladycats. Booneville had a record of 9-3 against teams in higher classifications.
With Booneville entering the 3A-4 conference next season and with all but one player back, they should be immediate contenders at the conference, regional and state levels. They will likely get Taylor Nichols, who missed this season, back and as has been the case the last two seasons, freshmen will vie for starting positions as well. There should be excitement of the highest order when next March rolls around.