Canton softball team carries confidence, belief in itself into matchup with postseason nemesis

Canton Tigers

CANTON, Mo. — The circumstances suggested the Canton softball team was doomed.

The Tigers never believed that.

And when they escaped a controversial, fingernail-biting seventh inning in last Saturday’s Class 1 District 9 championship game unscathed, they embraced the belief nothing was going to stand in their way.

“We definitely felt that in our huddle,” Canton junior pitcher Emma Hultz said. “Madison Gorrell kind of hyped us up and got us going for the rest of the innings.”

Now, that carries over to the rest of the postseason.

Canton navigated a bases-loaded, one-out jam in which it twice had to change pitchers because of a misinterpretation of rules by the umpiring crew and beat North Shelby 3-2 in nine innings on the Raiders’ home field to win the Tigers’ fourth straight district championship.

Macie Fisher’s two-out double scored Macy Glasgow with the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth, and Hultz retired North Shelby in order in the bottom of the frame with shortstop Kadee Guilfoyle catching a popout for the final out.

“It was probably one of the craziest games we’ve been in all year,” said Fisher, the junior center fielder. “To come out winning was great.”

It’s the kind of victory you exhale after before celebrating.

“The realization after Kadee had caught that ball, I think everyone was pretty shocked,” Hultz said. “We were very excited. I just felt very relieved when she caught that ball.”

Then, reality hit. The Tigers (23-5) live to play another day.

“Being able to win another district title is pretty awesome,” junior catcher Kinsey Biggerstaff said. “Having the chance to go further is even better.”

It sets up a rematch with postseason nemesis La Plata (18-10), which eliminated Canton in the sectionals each of the previous two seasons. The Bulldogs won 1-0 last season and 4-3 in 2020 and will play host to the Tigers at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“It was tough both times,” Fisher said. “Especially after we beat them in the Monroe City Tournament last year, then losing to them in the postseason, that was definitely tough.”

But there is a different air about the Tigers this go-around, namely because they survived Saturday’s affair and did so on North Shelby’s home field.

“I think it gives us the confidence to go get another win,” Biggerstaff said. “We’ve already won districts at a field that isn’t our home. So being able to go and see another team’s student section and have them talk to us, it gives us the mindset we can overcome, we can win and we can go on.”

The key is putting pressure on the Bulldogs.

Canton has five players batting .324 or higher and averages eight runs per game, all while piling up 140 stolen bases. Fisher leads the Tigers with a .495 average and 40 stolen bases, while senior Nariah Clay is hitting .341 with 30 stolen bases.

“I like that we can put hits together whenever we need to generate offense,” said Biggerstaff, who is hitting .456 with a team-leading four home runs and 36 RBIs. “We’re really fast. That really helps us get around the bases and create runs.”

“When you get baserunners on, it puts pressure on the fielders and that’s when they start making mistakes. So getting the first couple batters on base and having them run is a pretty awesome advantage for us.”

Giving a lead to Hultz works well. She has a 1.39 ERA in 110.2 innings with 149 strikeouts and just 19 walks.

“When we come out early and get on top, we stay on top,” Hultz said. “We usually don’t come down and give up the lead.”

She’s not afraid to let the opponent put the ball in play.

“Our defense has been pretty good behind me,” Hultz said. “I have full confidence we can win.”

The Tigers have every reason to be brimming with confidence.

“I feel like there’s a different energy in the postseason with us,” Fisher said. “We have a lot more fun, and we’re always ready to compete.”

They have incentive, too.

“We’re pretty excited to get some redemption and take another step,” Biggerstaff said.

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