Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
WARDSVILLE — Tuesday night was Senior Night for the Blair Oaks softball team, but junior Payton Staggs stole the show.
At the plate, Staggs had two hits, three runs, a home run and three RBI. In the circle, she provided four much-needed innings of scoreless relief as the Lady Falcons held off Southern Boone, 7-5.
“She’s been leading us as a pitcher and as a hitter,” Blair Oaks coach Sharon Buschjost said. “I get as excited to watch her pitch as I do to see her hit.”
Staggs entered in the fourth with runners on first and third after the Lady Eagles had already tied the game at 5. Staggs retired Southern Boone’s No. 1 through 3 hitters in order to escape without further damage.
“I thought that was a big turning point,” Buschjost said.
Staggs had played at second base before replacing Taylor Gehlert in the circle. Staggs said the Lady Falcons had floated multiple options for how pitching would be handled Tuesday, but she was ready to go from the start.
“I knew, not warming up a lot, I just had to throw strikes and let my defense help me out,” she said.
Staggs allowed seven baserunners on four hits over her final three innings, but the Lady Eagles couldn’t push another run across.
She also got the scoring started for Blair Oaks. Taylor Markway and Lauren Viessman began the bottom of the first with two infield hits, and Staggs drove them in with a single. Ashley Forck drove Staggs in with a double, Mackinnley Hamacher plated Forck, and the Lady Falcons went on to hit around in the inning.
But Southern Boone clawed its way back into the game. After scoring in the third on a walk and a ground-rule double, the Lady Eagles hit around and pushed four across in the fourth. Gehlert allowed a double, a single, a hit-by-pitch, a walk, a single, a long line drive that resulted in an error and another single before she was pulled for Staggs.
Gehlert has accompanied Staggs in the Lady Falcons’ 1-2 punch in the circle this year.
“The potential is there for her to throw a lot of strikes,” Buschjost said of Gehlert, who allowed nine baserunners after cruising through the first two inings. “I’m not sure if it’s just nerves, just kind of that first real taste of varsity experience … or if she’s kind of lost the feel, but she’s an important part of it, so hopefully she’ll be able to bounce back and contribute.”
When Staggs came in with the lead gone, she said Blair Oaks played with a clean slate.
“New game,” she said. “We started fresh and decided it was a new game we had to get going again.”
Once she escaped the inning unharmed, Staggs didn’t waste any time in getting the lead back. In her next at-bat, she walked, advanced to second on a groundout, and scored when she stole third and drew an overthrow to left field.
“I saw the ball, I saw my chance, and I had to take it,” she said.
Staggs also had a home run in the bottom of the third. Buschjost said the hit, which cleared the fence in right-center, was reminiscent of a ball Staggs hit Monday against Hickman that resulted in a double. This one was hit just a bit higher.
“I definitely had a good feeling coming into this game,” Staggs said. “I knew that as a team we had to get our bats going, and I had to help out with that.”
Blair Oaks regained a four-run lead with the home run, though it didn’t last long.
The Lady Falcons are no strangers to dealing with big swings within games.
“That’s how we’ve been going the last six, seven games,” Buschjost said. “It’s been a little up and down.”
Buschjost said she was proud of her team for tacking on an extra run in its final at-bat. Emilee Jones knocked a double, Macyn Wilbers sacrificed her to third, and Markway chopped a groundout to first to allow Jones to score.
Defensively, Markway moved to second base when Staggs came in to pitch and triggered a key double play after Southern Boone began the fifth with two straight singles. Markway caught a line drive and fired to Fork, who reacted quickly and made a tough scoop to catch the runner at first. Buschjost said Markway’s skills behind the plate paid off on her play at second.
“She catches a lot of people’s attention for how quickly she releases the ball as a catcher, and, in my eyes, that was the very thing that led to the double play at second base,” Buschjost said.
Markway, a senior, shined for the Lady Falcons, and seniors Viessman and Forck also scored runs. The senior class, which has gone 83-28 in their time at Blair Oaks, was honored with a ceremony, personalized signs, T-shirts and cake.
But Staggs said the night doesn’t have her looking ahead to her final year of high school.
“It makes me more excited about this year than it does next year, with districts and final four and everything coming up,” she said. “That’s definitely a big goal, and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do there.”
The Blair Oaks junior varsity team won against Southern Boone as well Tuesday, 5-4.
Meredith Eisterhold was the winning pitcher. She also contributed two hits and an RBI at the plate. Sydney Wilde had a triple, and Paige Luebbering had a hit and two RBI.
The Blair Oaks varsity (18-5) and junior varsity (13-2) teams play against Jefferson City at home Thursday. The varsity game will start at 4 p.m.