Final four bound: Hultz, Canton keep Braymer off-balance in state quarterfinal victory

Canton softball

The Canton softball team celebrates following its 10-0 victory over Braymer on Saturday in the Class 1 state quarterfinals at the Cotton Bowl in Canton, Mo. | Submitted photo

CANTON, Mo. — Canton catcher Kinsey Biggerstaff said Emma Hultz has one pitch in particular that stands out in her nasty repertoire of off-speed offerings.

“It’s her changeup,” Biggerstaff said matter-of-factly.

And Hultz, a junior right-hander, doesn’t disagree with her battery mate’s assessment.

“The change is my No. 1 pitch,” she said with absolutely no hesitation.

Hultz showcased that wicked changeup time and time again Saturday when she pitched the Canton softball team past Braymer in a five-inning, 10-0 quarterfinal game of the Class 1 state tournament at the Cotton Bowl.

Hultz, however, was hardly a one-trick pony. She effectively worked in a timely drop ball and a fastball just fast enough to keep Braymer hitters off balance. Hultz permitted a pair of harmless singles while striking out 10 and walking one in a 62-pitch performance.

Canton coach Kristyn Arens, who was a member of the school’s 2008 team that finished third in the state tournament, said Hultz can be dominant with more than one pitch.

“It’s whatever’s working for her on a given day,” Arens said. “She was really clicking (against Braymer).”

Hultz retired the final 10 Braymer batters in order and struck out at least two in four of her five innings of work.

“I just try to stay calm and rely on the defense,” said Hultz, whose sister, Abbey, played on the 2019 Canton team that qualified for state.

Hultz and Canton, which has won 15 straight games, advance to the Class 1 state semifinals and will face Marion C. Early at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Killian Softball Complex in Springfield, Mo. The other semifinal is Salisbury vs. Polo, also a 1:30 p.m. start. The state championship game is at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday.

Canton (25-5) had a decided home-field advantage Saturday with a boisterous crowd, and should be well-represented in Springfield, too.

“It’s awesome the way the whole town comes together behind us,” Biggerstaff said.

Canton hit Braymer (20-8) with all 10 of its runs over the first three innings, including five in the third that all but cemented the Tigers’ trip to state.

“These girls have played together their whole lives,” Arens said. “Softball is everything to them. Winning state is always a possibility.”

Macie Fisher, Nariah Clay and Allie Ruffcorn each collected a pair of Canton’s nine hits. Madison Gorrell, Macy Glasgow and Kielyn Ott had the Tigers’ other safeties. Canton also took advantage of a pair of costly Braymer errors and three infield hits. 

The Canton tradition of softball success also plays a role at this time of the season

“We’ve been tested this year, and you never know who will step up,” Arens said. “We’re confident anyone in our lineup can start things.”

Neither Arena nor her players were worried early in the season when Canton struggled to a 10-5 start. There were some unexpected losses early, and it was not until late September when the Tigers began to resemble a state contender.

“I knew we could come together,” Clay said.

And that they did.

Included in Canton’s 15-game win streak are playoff victories over Knox County (15-2), North Shelby (3-2 in nine innings), LaPlata (12-0) and Braymer. Canton has outscored its postseason opponents 40-4.

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