The St. James softball team got out to a rough start when they opened their season against Rolla on Friday, Aug. 18. Since then, the Lady Tigers played three games in the New Haven Tournament on Saturday Aug. 19, winning two, and hosted Salem for their home opener on Monday, Aug. 21. The Lady Tigers had some clutch hitting on Monday, beating Salem 5-2.
St. James faced off against Hancock to open up the New Haven Tournament, dropping the first game 5-3, but after that they've been on a tear. They started by beating Hermann in an offensive shootout in their first game in the Consolation bracket. Both teams traded off big innings with their bats, but the Lady Tigers pulled out a 14-11 win. Scout Paulus, Hunter Pitts and Baylee Ambrose each drove in a pair of runs, while Audrey Marcee earned her first win of the season. St. James then went on to win the Consolation Championship against the host school 5-3, as Kayla Hamilton earned her first W of the season.
The Lady Tigers then carried that momentum from the New Haven Tournament into their home opener against Salem on Monday. Hamilton toed the rubber again for St. James on Monday and she kicked off the game by striking out two of Salem's first three batters, getting through the first inning without allowing a baserunner. The St. James offense then gave her a lead in the bottom of the frame. Mikaela Donnelly drove in the first run of the game when she reached on a fielder's choice. Hamilton then padded that lead, as a second run scored on an error by the Salem left fielder. The Lady Tigers ended the inning with a 2-0 lead.
Salem managed to chip away at that lead in the top of the second. After allowing a leadoff single, Hamilton struck out a batter before walking the next two to load the bases. Hamilton was able to get a second out, but wasn't able to cleanly field a liner back to the mound and the runner was safe at first to put Salem on the board. The Lady Tigers were able to get out of the inning on the next batter, but Salem had already cut the St. James lead to 2-1.
After two uneventful innings, Salem managed to tie the game in the top of the fifth on a sacrifice fly, but Hamilton managed to limit the damage by getting a groundout and a strikeout to strand a runner at third.
The game wouldn't stay tied for long, as St. James took the lead for good in the bottom of the frame. Kyler Dautenhahn led off the inning with a single before Baylee Ambrose was hit by a pitch. Taylor Brennan attempted to bunt the pair over, but Salem got greedy and tried to get the out at third. The throw went wide and out of play, allowing one run to score and putting Brennan and Ambrose on second and third. Scout Paulus then slapped a ball to third and Salem tried to get the out at home. The throw hit Ambrose in the back, as she slid in safely at hime, which allowed Paulus to get to second base. An error on the infield loaded the bases and after a play in the plate went in Salem's favor, Hamilton knocked in a run with a sac fly, bringing the St. James lead to 5-2.
The sixth inning came and went without much from either team, so Hamilton returned to the mound in the seventh to finish things off. With two outs and runners on second and third, Hamilton needed to come up with a few big pitches to hold off a Salem comeback. She did just that, striking out the final batter to end the game. St. James head softball coach Brad Purvis was happy to see Hamilton pitching with confidence all night long.
"The thing I saw was a lot of confidence and she seemed to get stronger as the game progressed," said Purvis. "Even in the tight situations where we've seen her buckle a little bit at times, she pushed through and did not falter. That's probably one of the biggest differences that I saw in her."
Hamilton ended the game by allowing two earned runs on six hits, three walks and a hit batter. She struck out seven in the win. Hamilton also had the benefit of clutch hitting on the offensive end, which is something coach Purvis loves to see.
"To me it just shows a little bit of growth," said the St. James head coach. "I know we're still early in the season here, but if we track from the Rolla game Friday night to where we were at tonight, that's growth. We're gonna have some growing pains with the new lineup here, but that's what we want. I told them they did a good job tonight, we'll open some more things up and we'll just keep moving forward.
One of the biggest boosts the Lady Tigers had on Monday was having their starting catcher, Donnelly, back in the lineup. She was forced to miss Friday's game and the New Haven Tournament with a concussion, but she brings a lot of stability to the heart of the lineup and the pitchers that take the mound.
"Absolutely. Having Mikaela back behind the plate, she's caught since her freshman year and she brings that calming presence, especially to our pitching staff with her experience and to the middle of our lineup. She's kind of the engine to it," said coach Purvis. "That was a big missing piece that we've had for the last four games, but we're obviously excited to have her back."
The Lady Tigers were scheduled to face off against Vienna on Tuesday, Aug. 22, but the game was cancelled due to weather. St. James will have a couple of well deserved nights off before they face off against Belle on the road on Friday, Aug. 25.