The Hawks beat St. Vincent 11-1 on Monday and improved to 6-1 this season. Hillsboro shut out St. Pius X 11-0 on Friday in both schools’ Jefferson County Activities Association opener. The Hawks were 6-1 in the JCAA last year. Festus was 7-0 and won the conference title.

The Hawks lost several starters, including Class 3 all-state pitcher Emma Nichols, to graduation after finishing 21-11 and finishing fourth in the state last year. Hillsboro had an incredible run through the playoffs, shutting out

De Soto in the District 2 final, Perryville in the sectionals and Notre Dame St. Louis in the quarterfinals.

Sophomore pitcher Elly Eckrich improved to 3-0 after she beat the Lancers. Eckrich looks to be cut from the same cloth as Nichols.

“She throws hard like (Nichols),” Hillsboro head coach Kevin Lucas said.

For a team without a bunch of varsity at-bats coming into the season, Hillsboro is clocking the ball. Junior shortstop Alanah Dunphy hit a grand slam against the Lancers, is batting over .600 and already has a double and two triples. For a moment, the umpires ruled her grand slam was a ground-rule double, but they conferred and reversed the call as Lucas protested.

“I saw it hit the bricks (on the outside of the fence in center field) and bounce down,” Lucas said. “It was a hard call for the umpires because they were so far away. It was very exciting for her because it was her first varsity home run. She’s showing me she needs to be out there hitting.”

Seniors Julianna Johnson (catcher), Bailey Shuman (center field) and Katelyn Canada (second base) and sophomore Hailey Genge (first base) return to the varsity lineup. Junior left-hander Alex Wick won two games at the Parkway Tournament and was the winning pitcher against the Indians. Lucas is confident she’ll be a good complement to Eckrich. Sophomore Kora King will also pitch.

“I would say we don’t have a true ace, but I’m very confident in all three of them,” Lucas said.

Ellie Bartlett, Nikki Evans, Ryleigh Hindle, Maya LaPlante, Avery Dean and Lauren Lalk are all newcomers to the varsity. Bartlett is batting .500 with three doubles and seven RBIs.

Hillsboro is averaging eight runs per game and began the season by playing five games in three days at the Parkway Tournament last week and emerged with a record of 4-1.

Two of the Hawks’ victories in the tournament were of the walk-off variety. Trailing Parkway South by three runs going into the bottom of the sixth on Sept. 3, Hillsboro sophomore Elly Eckrich delivered the game-winning hit in a 9-8 win. The game was shortened to six innings because of time restraints.

The Hawks were down to their last strike against Parkway West the next day and had two runners in scoring position when senior Amber Cage hit the ball over the center fielder’s head for the game-winning hit.

In the championship against Fort Zumwalt West on Sept. 5, the Hawks tied the game 4-4 in the seventh, but the Jaguars’ leadoff hitter hit a triple and was driven in for the winning run. Hillsboro also beat Ritenour 11-1 and Kirkwood 6-2 during the tournament.

“We did a lot of good things against some good ball clubs,” Lucas said.

 “With the two walk-off wins, it shows they’re not giving up,” Lucas said. “It’s a long season and hopefully we can continue this. A lot of things I’m seeing from our team are things I usually don’t until the middle of the season.”

Lutheran South and Notre Dame St. Louis are in District 2 this year, along with the Hawks, De Soto, Festus and Windsor, which hosts the tournament. North County was in the district last year, but was moved to District 1.

Agers leads Lancers

Before losing to Hillsboro on Friday, St. Pius X beat Saxony Lutheran and St. Vincent by identical scores of 11-2.

Playing in the Jefferson County Activities Association, the Lancers (Class 2) often must play up a class against their larger league foes. Head coach Kevin Halley said he is aware that his team struggles against teams like the Hawks and Festus.

“We play a tough schedule just inside our conference,” said Halley, who enters his 12th year as the head coach. “The girls know they’re competing against larger schools.”

Junior A.J. Agers could start for any team in the conference. Agers was selected to the league’s first team as a pitcher last year after she finished 10-7 with an ERA of 1.81. She struck out 151 batters against just 18 walks in 96 2/3 innings. In the opener against Saxony Lutheran, Agers fanned 17 batters, while collecting four hits and three RBIs. She struck out eight more batters and was 2-for-2 with a home run against St. Vincent.

“We have a proven ace in A.J.,” Halley said. “She can throw all of her pitches for strikes and has increased her velocity since last fall. She has a goal to pitch in college and has been working very hard to improve and it’s paid off. If we can play good defense behind her, we will give ourselves a chance in every game she throws.”

Seniors Isabelle McAfee and Maggie Key will see time in the circle. McAfee and Key pitch a different style than Agers. Halley said they need to throw strikes consistently to be effective. McAfee was 0-3 last year and walked more batters than she struck out.

Twin sisters Kacey and Molly Flanagan are back at catcher and second base, respectively. The Flanagans had two hits and scored twice in the win over the Indians and combined to score three runs against the Crusaders. Molly hit .298 with six extra-base hits last year.

Senior Victoria Arriaga plays first base and can hit for average and power. She hit .283 with 14 RBIs a year ago.

Seniors Sara Kutilek (outfield), Rosemary Surdyke (outfield) and Lilly Ott (designated player), juniors Payton Baker (outfield), Grace Halfmann (outfield) and Tori Ott (infield) and freshman Sophie Meyer (shortstop) will all get playing time for St. Pius, which finished 10-10-1 last year after losing to Kelly in the Class 2 District 2 semifinals.

“In order for us to be successful, the top of our order needs to be the offensive leaders,” Halley said. “Our top four of the Flanagans, Agers and Arriaga can all hit for average and power. But consistency is our key.”

Owls strike with power

Windsor returns six players who batted .300 or better last year.

To head coach Wayne Montgomery, offense is the key to success in 2019.

“We have seven girls in our lineup who are capable of going deep at any time,” Montgomery said.

Junior Piper Montgomery, Wayne’s niece, returns at catcher after she was selected to the league’s first team last year. Montgomery batted .406 with 21 RBIs last season. The good thing for Windsor is, neither of those numbers led the team.

“She threw out 70 percent of the runners that ran on her last year,” Wayne Montgomery said.

Shortstop Payton Irwin, a junior, hit .424 with seven doubles and 20 runs batted in and was also on the all-conference first squad.

“She’s fast and can hit for power. She has great hands at shortstop,” Montgomery said.

Seniors Emma Pouvaranukoah (outfield) and Delana Mentel (pitcher), junior Gabby Dueing (second base) and sophomores Lacie Pruett (first base-outfield) and Cierra Parker (first base-outfield) return to the varsity this year.

Replacing first-team pitcher Jessica Veselske’s 10 wins and 108 strikeouts is one of the Owls’ biggest keys to success. Veselske graduated this spring. Mentel was 2-1 last season and is Windsor’s top pitcher this year.

“(Mentel) has good speed and control and if she hits her spots, she will be very effective. Reagan Poe is our No. 2 pitcher and we will look for her to take up a lot of innings this year. Both ladies put us in a good position to win games.”

Pouvaranukoah is the top defensive outfielder and will bat leadoff. Dueing was all-conference honorable mention after hitting .333.

Windsor lost to Sullivan 10-1 in its first game this season. The Owls lost to Hillsboro 5-4 in eight innings in the Class 3 District 2 playoffs in 2018. Windsor has had bad draws in the district playoffs in two of the last three years, losing to Festus 7-6 in the District 3 championship in 2016.

Pitching key to Festus success

After his team allowed 28 runs and lost their first two games, Festus head coach Jeff Montgomery said the Tigers need to pitch better if they are to win games this year.

Following the losses to Farmington and Northwest, Festus hit the road, going to Cape Girardeau and Kelso to play in the Notre Dame Tournament over the weekend. The Tigers allowed 34 runs in three games on Friday, winning once. On Saturday, they beat Van Buren 16-0 and Doniphan 11-8.

The offense has produced 56 runs in seven games, but the Tigers are a game under .500 at 3-4.

“I think we’ll be able to hit,” Montgomery said. “If we can play good defense and pitch good, our hitting will take some pressure off our pitchers. Hopefully, we’ll score a lot of runs. We’ve got kids hurt, kids playing out of position and young players in the mix.”

Festus was the No. 1 seed in the Class 3 District 2 playoffs last year, but was bounced by De Soto 12-3 in the semifinals and finished the season 11-9. The Tigers could use another season from first team all-league pitcher Cailey McFadden, but she graduated. Hunter Ellsworth, Morgan Green and McKenzie McJunkins have all taken their turns in the circle this year and all have ERAs of 7.00 or higher.

Offensively things look much brighter for Festus. Senior Abby Rickermann is already in all-state form with 13 stolen bases and a .500 batting average.

McJunkins and McKenna Templeton lead the Tigers this year with a .526 batting average. Green has three doubles and two home runs and leads the team with 11 RBIs. Ellsworth is batting .389. Tristan Foulk returns to center field, where she’s been a starter for three years. Blair Baumer is hitting .375 and starts at second base.

“We have more power than we’ve had in years past,” Montgomery said. “We also have some speed to create problems for the opponent. We have two or three freshmen who could compete for playing time.”

The Tigers will play every team in their district in the regular season, with the exception of Notre Dame St. Louis.

“Our district is pretty balanced and tough,” Montgomery said.

Dragons look to extend streak

Since winning the Class 3 state title in 2014, De Soto has played in the District 2 championship every year since.

But Hillsboro has beaten the Dragons in the last two district championships, leaving De Soto with unfinished business in 2019. The Dragons ended 2018 with a record of 16-12 after being shut out by the Hawks in last year’s district final. De Soto is 2-3 after competing in the Cape Girardeau Notre Dame Tournament last weekend.

“Our team is a group of really fun and outstanding young women,” head coach Chris Woelich said. “Our strengths are hitting for power and we have good team speed at the top and bottom of the order. We have several freshmen and sophomores who are taking big steps forward. We are very excited for them to contribute.”

The Dragons lost their two all-league first-teamers (Evelyn Boyer and Tricia Charleville) to graduation, but they have a solid core of returning veterans in seniors Krystin Keath (pitcher-center fielder) and Sarah Bone (second base), juniors Kaitlynn Hannah (catcher-third base) and Madison Hayes-Gowen (first base) and sophomore Trista Grobe (shortstop-catcher).

Boyer and Charleville pitched all but 10 2/3 innings last year. Keath pitched those few frames and is the unquestioned leader in the circle now. Emoy Boyer-Faulkner and Kiley Ruengert will also pitch.

“(Keath) has taken the role seriously and has worked in the offseason. I am very proud of the leadership she has shown,” Woelich said.

Bone is very smooth at second base. She bats second and was on the second team in the conference last year after she hit .342 with 10 doubles and a pair of triples.

“I love watching her work,” Woelich said. “The way she goes about her business in all aspects of her life makes me very proud to have her represent De Soto.”

Hannah hits in the heart of the order and she led the Dragons with five triples and 21 RBIs last year.

“She is just an amazing young lady,” Woelich said. “I expect her to have some huge hits this year.”

Grobe can play anywhere on the field. Woelich said she’s a player to watch after she hit .326 with 12 extra-base hits and 16 runs batted in last year.

Hayes-Gowen hit a home run against North County in the district playoffs last year.

“She is rather quiet but definitely has a stick that has the potential to impact our lineup,” Woelich said.

Blue Jays rely on Chipps

Senior Abi Chipps began her prep career playing for the third-place team in Class 2.

As a freshman, Chipps was a key part of Jefferson reaching the state tournament. She scored the Blue Jays’ only run in a 1-0 win over Lathrop in the 2016 third-place game. After the season, Chipps, who plays flawlessly at shortstop, was selected to the Class 2 all-state first team.

Three years later, Chipps is on her farewell high school tour. The Blue Jays haven’t advanced past districts since 2016, but Chipps has been on the all-state first team in each of her first three years. Last season, she hit .603 and stole 42 bases. Going into this season, Chipps holds the school career record for base swipes with 110. Lamar’s Stefanie Standley (1998-2001) holds the state record with 206 career stolen bases, so that looks out of reach, but if Chipps steals 26 bags, she would move up to fourth place.

“She’s made an impact since her freshman year,” head coach Robert Kuehnle said. “She is the sparkplug. Losing her will be a huge loss next year. She’s had a positive impact on the whole program. Her mentality about how she approaches the game will have a positive impact for years to come.”

As impactful as Chipps is on defense and at the plate, the Blue Jays have a similar performer in catcher Catryn Cattoor. Kuehnle said he doesn’t like throwing to Cattoor at batting practice because the exit velocity off her bat is so fast. Cattoor hit .475 with 16 extra-base hits and a team-high 28 RBIs.

“She’s an anomaly. She’s very intelligent and more calculating than anyone I’ve ever seen play catcher,” Kuehnle said. “Her face is the same if she goes 4-for-4 or 0-for-4.”

Megan Payne will start in the circle most of the time this season. Cami Menke, Morgan Figliolo, Gracie Friedmeyer and Allison Campbell will come in relief.

The Blue Jays began the season with a 10-6 loss to Northwest on Sept. 3. Chipps was 3-for-4 and scored three runs. Cattoor was 2-for-3 with two doubles. Payne pitched four innings, walked four and allowed eight runs (seven were earned).

Blackcats have top catcher

Herculaneum had just three wins going into last year’s Class 2 District 3 tournament.

Two victories and 35 runs scored later, the Blackcats found themselves in the district championship against top-seeded Hancock. And while Herculaneum lost to the Tigers 9-3 in the final, the stage was set to move closer to .500 this fall.

After losses to Valley Park and Fredericktown on Sept. 3-4, the Blackcats’ bats came to life in a 20-1 win over Gateway Science Academy on Sept. 5. In the three games this year, Herky’s on-base percentage is .516 and they have a slugging percentage of .459. The Blackcats also have five stolen bases in their first three games.

Senior Emma Vaughn, who plays shortstop and catcher, had a home run and five RBIs against the Gators. She was voted to the second JCAA team as a utility player. Freshman Courtney Lowrey also drove in five runs against Gateway to go along with three hits and a home run in her team’s 19-hit assault. Lowrey will pitch this year.

Senior Ashley Croom will share time behind the plate with Vaughn and also play shortstop. Croom was the second-team JCAA catcher last fall. She batted .450 with six doubles, four triples and two homers.

Junior Kylie Romaine will pitch and play first base again this year. In 2018, Romaine led the Blackcats with 71 innings in the circle and won three games.

Sophomore Abby Kostecki played up on the varsity last year and had 44 plate appearances. She didn’t pitch, but is expected to join the Blackcats’ staff this year.

Christie Brakhage enters her first season as Herculaneum’s head coach. She was an assistant coach at the school from 2001-2003.