Haley Burrows never hit a home run entering the District 4 Class A semifinal Thursday afternoon. Not in high school, not in travel ball, not in Little League … never.
Two words helped her break through and pave the way for Bucktail as it reached the District 4 Class A championship.
Burrows took coach Mike Poorman’s advice, turned it into powerful actions and clubbed her first home run, while going 3 for 4 with three RBIs as Bucktail defeated Montgomery 12-2 in five innings at Elm Park. Makenzie Wagner threw a two-hitter and the Bucks hit well throughout the lineup, producing 13 hits while reaching the second final in program history.
Bucktail will play Canton in that title game Tuesday back at Elm Park.
“(Wednesday) at practice coach pulled me aside and said just make it short and quick. So, I went up there and thought short and quick the whole time,” Burrows said. “I’m an over-thinker, so I just thought short and quick and calmed down and I did it.”
Burrows doubled and scored Bucktail’s first run in the first inning before Kendall Wagner launched a mammoth go-ahead home run an inning later. After Lola English (2 for 3, 2 runs) singled to open the third inning, Burrows’s moment arrived.
The senior shortstop, part of three straight 15-plus win teams, fell behind in the count before unloading and launching a long home run over the fence in straight away center field which put Bucktail ahead, 4-1.
The home run was a no doubter to just about everyone except Burrows. Once she saw first base coach Chuck Cross slow clapping and heard her mother’s voice, however, Burrows knew she had broken through.
And what a great time to do so.
“I hit my very first one at practice and I got to third and something in my brain unlocked. It was like, “Why couldn’t I unlock this my sophomore year?’” Burrows said. “I told them at the beginning of the season when I was in a slump, I’ll start hitting when it really matters. (Poorman) said, ‘You weren’t lying,’ and I said, ‘Of course I wasn’t. Just trust me.’”
“We’ve been working on some things because she’s been hot and cold all year,” Poorman said. “Today she was pretty good to say the least.”
Bucktail exacted a measure of revenge after Montgomery ended its season a year ago in the semifinals before capturing the state championship. Thursday, no 2022 starter was on the field, but Montgomery still made a nice statement, making Bucktail earn everything it did through its hitting.
Montgomery showed no fear, even with multiple players competing at new positions for the first time. Zoe Furman opened the game with a single and scored on grounders from Madisyn Miller and Summer Drick who both were rocks on the left side of the Montgomery infield. Freshman pitcher Ava Hartman showed impressive poise in her playoff debut and also drew an RBI walk as Montgomery closed within 4-2 in the fourth inning.
Sure, it was not the result Montgomery wanted, but with all but two starters returning next season, the Raiders have planted some seeds. Maybe what looked like an end Thursday, was just another start.
“They weren’t nervous at all today. We approached our at-bats well and made some great plays,” Montgomery coach Chris Glenn said. “We were swinging and trying to make things happen. We had some nice hits and I’m happy with our performance.”
Montgomery threatened to tie the game in the fourth inning when the first three batters reached via a walk, error and Addi Muhl single. Hartman’s two-out walk made it 4-2, but the Raiders were a few feet from doing more damage.
Brynn Fisher hit a laser with one out but it went right at center fielder Lola English. Delilah Preitz also hit a hard flyball to center field but English read it well and caught it for the final out. With all the players who graduated a year ago, Montgomery (12-10) grew a lot this season and yesterday’s experience could prove beneficial as it builds toward the future.
“The important thing is learning something from it and I like what we came out of here with,” Glenn said. “I would have liked to have won but if we come out with something to gain from it then I’m all right with it, too.”
Montgomery appears to have a bright future and so does Bucktail which starts four freshmen. But the future is now for the Bucks who have completely transformed their program over the last six seasons. Bucktail extended its future this season by receiving steady contributions throughout the order with seven players generating hits and eight reaching base.
Wagner’s home run sent a jolt throughout the dugout and Bucktail kept building on the momentum from there. Just as important, Bucktail thundered back after Montgomery made it a two-run game, scoring five times and going up, 9-2.
“Montgomery came to play and I’m happy because they made us earn everything the whole game,” Poorman said. “I’m proud of the girls. We hit in several different ways. We started with the long ball stuff and then got some chain hits.”
Wagner, Alexis Lowery and Matti Mason formed a chain gang in the fourth inning as Bucktail started busting open the game. Wagner hit a lead-off single before Lowery scorched an RBI triple and Mason (2 for 3) hit an RBI single. Burrows added an RBI infield single and then used super base running, coming home from second as Makenzie Wagner brought in two runs on a grounder and made it, 9-2.
Wagner (2 for 4) retired nine straight Montgomery batters from the first through the third innings and maintained her composure after the Raiders loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth. She struck out five and produced a shutdown inning in the fifth, retiring three straight batters before Bucktail scored two, two-out runs in the fifth and ended it early.
Now the Bucks have a shot at joining the 2019 team as the only ones in program history to win a district title. Canton also is trying to leave a mark, so the battle lines are drawn for what looks like it could be quite a district final.
“This is great. Especially, with some of our coaches not coming back, it’s great to make this run for them,” Burrows said. “It’s an unfathomable kind of feeling.”
Montgomery 100 10–2 2 1
Bucktail 112 53–12 13 1
Ava Hartman and Addi Muhl. Makenzie Wagner and Matti Mason. W–Wagner. L–Hartman.
Top Montgomery hitters: Zoe Furman 1-3, run; Muhl 1-2; Hartman RBI. Top Bucktail hitters: Haley Burrows 3-4, HR, 2B, 3 RBIs, 3 runs; Lola English 2-3, RBI, 3 runs; Wagner 2-4, 3 RBIs; Kendall Wagner 2-3, HR, RBI, 2 runs; Mason 2-3, RBI; Alexis Lowery 1-3, 3B, RBI, run; Eva Sockman 1-3..
Records: Bucktail (15-4), Montgomery (12-10).
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