By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The school from central Benton County has come close over the years, with a lot of second-, third- and fourth-place finishes.
Finally, Lincoln High School can say it has a state champion.
And this one didn’t lack excitement.
Lincoln rallied from a 2-0 deficit late, then erupted for five runs in the eighth inning to defeat Kennett 8-3 Saturday afternoon in the MSHSAA spring softball state championship game at Killian Sports Complex in Springfield.
“I can’t imagine a better way to end my season and high school softball,” said Lincoln senior and pitcher Aleah Paxton, who threw all eight innings for the Cardinals. “This was my last high school game ever, and one of my last games with my baby sister (third baseman Cadyn Paxton).
“I wouldn’t have wanted it to go any other way.”
It’s Lincoln High School’s first state championship in any team sport.
“It means so much,” said Lincoln right fielder Chloe Reese, who ignited Lincoln’s sixth-inning rally with a two-out, RBI double. “This has been such a special group and we’ve worked hard all season for this. It’s great for these seniors to get it, and it means so much to our school and community.”
Lincoln led 3-2 entering the bottom of the sixth, but Kennett tied the game on Adelynn Nelson’s RBI single.
The Cardinals (26-2 overall) would respond, emphatically, in the eighth inning.
Genesis Smith, the No. 9 hitter in Lincoln’s lineup, drilled a ball to right field for a triple. Cadyn Paxton followed with an RBI double that put Lincoln ahead, 4-3.
The Cardinals were just getting started.
Haley Ebeling’s two-run single pushed Lincoln’s lead to 6-3. Catcher Haley Mackey followed with an RBI triple. The Cardinals added another run on a wild pitch.
“I knew we had this in us. I knew we were a good team,” Paxton said. “I told my girls before we played, ‘There’s nothing to lose here. We know we’re good enough, let’s do it.’”
Lincoln trailed 2-0 through the first five innings.
After Reese’s RBI double made it 2-1, Smith followed with an RBI single that tied the game. The Cardinals scored the go-ahead run on a Kennett error.
“We were just slow for the first few innings, didn’t have enough energy,” Reese said. “I really don’t know what caused (the rally). We all just got pumped up and it started working.”
Kennett, which had five errors in Friday’s win over Mt. Vernon, committed four errors against Lincoln. Lincoln (13) and Kennett (10) combined for 23 base hits.
Lincoln freshman Jenna Vandaveer, who scored the winning run against Potosi on Friday night, led Lincoln with three base hits. Five Lincoln players had RBIs.
By far, Lincoln had the smallest enrollment of this weekend’s final four teams. Kennett and Mt. Vernon have enrollments of around 350 students, and Potosi’s is even larger (487).
Lincoln barely cracks the century mark at 107 students.
“A lot of people, even though we were here (at state) two years ago, don’t know a lot about us,” said Lincoln coach Chris Sanders. “We’re a small school. We’re a Class 2 school (size) playing Class 3 and 4 schools. Most people would think, ‘The big school’s going to be better.’
“Our girls, they can play anywhere.”