Daniel Boone starting pitcher, McKenzi Ferguson. Photo by Ned Jilton II
Behind a 10-strikeout performance by McKenzi Ferguson and 13 hits across the lineup, the homestanding Lady ’Blazers defeated Volunteer 8-2 on Thursday night to win their sixth straight district title. It was Boone’s eighth district crown in the last 12 years, and they reached 30 wins for a fifth straight year.
It also assured a championship season for head coach Rick Wagner, who recently announced he will be stepping down at the end of the season.
“We have really improved since the start of the season and I credit that to the schedule we’ve played,” Wagner said. “We’ve got to see some good pitching and I think that paid off this week.”
The Lady ’Blazers (30-15) will host Seymour in a regional quarterfinal game on Monday at 6 p.m. The Lady Falcons (34-9) will have to travel to South-Doyle, which won 3-0 in the District 2-AAA championship game.
Ferguson gave up just three hits in addition to her 10 strikeouts, some of which were extremely timely. She came through with strikeouts for third outs in both the third and sixth innings with bases loaded.
“My team always plays with a lot of heart and they’re always there to back me up,” said Ferguson, who improved to 20-6 in the circle. “I just knew they were behind me the entire way.”
She had plenty of run support as Boone was hitting up and down the lineup. Five players ended with multiple hits, led by Jaclyn Jenkins who went 3-for-3 with a RBI. The others were Haley Wagner (2-for-3, 2 RBIs), Meredith Good (2-for-3, RBI), Kaylin Conkin (2-for-4, RBI) and Abbey Harrison (2-for-4).
Conkin got the scoring started for Boone in second inning with a RBI single, and Allison Littleton later added a sacrifice fly to left field to make it a 2-0 lead.
Volunteer cut the lead to a run on Kellie Kirk’s RBI ground out, but Boone responded with a run in the third and run in the fourth.
The Lady Falcons’ Kenzie Dixon scored off Sydney Chambers’ bases-loaded walk in the sixth to cut the margin to two runs, but the Lady ’Blazers responded with four runs in the bottom frame. Jenkins had a RBI double, followed by RBI singles by Wagner and Good.
While Wagner was productive with her bat, her signature play came on defense. She did her best Derek Jeter impression in the fifth inning by dropping to her knees to field a ground ball and then firing a throw to first for a 5-3 out.
“It was a hard hit ball and just by reaction I dove out,” she said. “I felt the ball in my glove and I knew I had to get it off quick. I knew I didn’t have time to stand up. I just turned and fired away.”
She said an even better decision was made three months ago. Already signed to a Division I golf scholarship, that was when she decided at the last moment to go ahead and play softball.
“I’m very happy that I decided to play my senior year. I know I would have regretted it if I missed out on it,” she said. “I’m so glad I get to be out here with these girls.”
On the Volunteer side, Dixon suffered the loss throwing a complete game as ace Morgan Marshall was resting her elbow which was hit the night before. Dixon aided her cause by reaching base on all four at-bats. Alix Lawson and Chambers also had hits for the Lady Falcons.
Volunteer coach Jackie Strickler, whose team won the Big Seven Conference regular season title, sung the praises of both Rick Wagner and his brother, Bill Wagner, a Daniel Boone assistant coach, after the game.
“It just wasn’t meant to be,” Strickler said. “You have two quality ball clubs play and it was their turn. If we couldn’t win it, I’m glad to see Rick and Bill win it. Those are two quality individuals and I have a lot of respect for them. But our kids, they keep on fighting.”
As for Boone’s head coach, he not only celebrated the present, but looked ahead to the future of Lady ’Blazer softball.
“I don’t want people to think I’m stepping down because we’re losing talent,” Wagner said. “We’re right where we’ve been for so many years. Whoever takes over is going to come into a really good situation. We have a lot of young girls, but they’re going to be OK.”
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