Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
WARDSVILLE — The last time the Blair Oaks softball team faced Centralia, it was in the 2013 Class 3 state championship, and the Lady Panthers ended the Lady Falcons’ season with a 9-2 win.
In their second game since, the Lady Falcons got a little bit of payback Thursday. Blair Oaks held off Centralia 3-1 at home to begin the season with two wins.
“It’s a game where you know you were playing a great team, so you know if you beat them you’ve just done something pretty special,” coach Sharon Buschjost said. “They’ve gotten the best of us, not just last year at state, but they’ve just gotten the best of us the last couple years in head-to-head competition. We wanted it as much as they did.”
Sophomore Taylor Gehlert was the winning pitcher for the Lady Falcons. She held the Lady Panthers to one run on 10 hits, striking out five and stranding eight.
“I feel very confident after beating the team that just won state, hoping to go back to state this year,” Gehlert said.
In Blair Oaks’ first two wins of the season, pitchers Payton Staggs and Gehlert have only allowed one combined run — a third-inning Centralia runner who scored from second on a two-out single.
Buschjost called it a confirmation of a one-two punch she believes is a strength for her team.
“I probably don’t have enough superlatives to describe (Gehlert’s) performance,” Buschjost said. “She did just a fantastic job.”
The Lady Panthers reached base in every inning, but stranded eight baserunners.
The Blair Oaks defense had a big hand in that. In the second, Lady Falcons first baseman Ashley Forck recorded the out at first and fired to third to catch a runner trying to advance two bags on a sacrifice bunt.
In the third, second baseman Carli Buschjost fielded a line drive and turned a bang-bang double play. Centralia’s Nicole Duncan drove in the Lady Panthers’ only run in the next at-bat, but the double play minimized the damage.
The biggest run was most likely saved in the seventh, when a Macyn Wilbers-to-Jolie Duffner relay reached Taylor Markway in time for her to tag out a runner trying to score from first on a double. Gehlert responded by striking out a batter and retiring the next with her 108th pitch to end the game with a runner on third.
Sharon Buschjost was surprised Wilbers was able to dig the double out of the corner in time to prevent Centralia from cutting the lead to one in the final inning.
“I had already turned my attention to second base, because I didn’t think we had a shot at her,” she said.
“When I picked up the relay throw, though, and saw where the runner was at third, I thought, ‘Well, maybe.’
“And I mean, that was executed to perfection.”
Wilbers was on the other end of a similar play in the second when her single to left field was fielded and thrown home in time to catch Carli Buschjost after Forck had already scored.
The Lady Falcons’ second run came the next inning when Markway doubled and Staggs drove her in with a single.
Staggs in particular was a tough out for the Lady Panthers. In her first at-bat she fouled off seven two-strike pitches before lining to left. She fouled off three more in her fifth-inning at-bat before drawing a walk.
“That was something that I noticed early on in the game, just some quality at-bats,” Sharon Bushjost said. “A lot of pitches thrown. I thought it did take a little bit of a toll on their pitcher. Just in that last half-inning, she got behind a little bit more on the hitters.”
The Falcons were unable to take advantage of Wilbers’ second left-field single in that final half-inning, but their fifth-inning run — Lauren Viessman bunt single, Markway sacrifice, wild pitch, error — proved more than enough for Blair Oaks.
“Win or lose, I think we’re a confident team, but (there’s) a little more satisfaction in 2-0 versus 1-1, knowing we’ve beat two quality teams,” Sharon Buschjost said. “It just gets you fired up and ready to go the next game. … I just think it was one of the best-played games I’ve seen in a while.”
The Lady Falcons junior varsity softball team lost to Centralia, 7-5, on Thursday.
Megan Mitchem was 2-for-2 with two doubles.