When she stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded in the fourth inning, Carson Staponski kept in mind the message Lee’s Summit West softball coach Eric Doane was trying to get through to the Titans: Stay focused, don’t let up.
There have been games this season where Doane has seen the Titans’ focus and drive wane after taking an early lead, and he was seeing it again Tuesday against Lee’s Summit. After scoring three first-inning runs, they had little to show for the next two innings.
So when Staponski had the opportunity to drive in some badly needed runs in the fourth, she dialed in and hit a two-RBI single that jump-started the Titans and sent them on their way to a 6-0 Suburban Gold Conference victory at West. The hit highlighted a three-for-four day for Staponski, and it showed Doane that the Titans were getting his message loud and clear.
“His philosophy is never settle, and I feel like he always wants us to get more and always keep your foot on the gas,” Staponski said. “I was definitely thinking more about getting my runners in, getting the runners on base and getting them around.”
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Staponski, a junior shortstop and West’s leadoff hitter, came up in the fourth after Emily Nine and Alexis Wilds drew walks and Kloee Arbuckle singled to load the bases with one out. Staponski connected for a line drive between first and second base that easily brought home Nine and Wilds. Wilds singled home Nine for another run in the fifth.
“She’s been a solid bat in the lineup,” Doane said. “She drives the ball hard, hits it to the gaps. She’s doing what we know she can do every night.”
Doane of course would like to see Staponski and the rest of the lineup focused in like that for an entire game, like the Titans were in their three-run first inning. Staponski led off with a single, Addison Besermin reached on an error and Maddie Harris also singled before McKenzie McAtee drove them all in with a double that rolled to the outfield wall.
All three runs scored before Lee’s Summit starting pitcher Hayley Kerley got her first out, but she retired eight of the next nine Titans she faced. The last time West faced the Tigers, the Titans scored six runs in the first before clawing out an 8-7 victory in last month’s Greater Kansas City tournament, and Doane sensed the familiar pattern happening again.
“That’s been a little bit of a problem for us,” Doane said. We kind of tend to coast a little bit. We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas and keep focusing every inning, every at-bat.”
West starting pitcher Jordan Weber did look sharp every inning, and that kept Lee’s Summit from getting back in the game. Weber allowed only two hits and no walks while striking out 10, and the Tigers never got a runner to second base.
“We struggled to adjust to her game, so we can’t take anything away from that,” said Lee’s Summit assistant coach Brad West, who was filling in for head coach Stacey Moore. “She was consistent with a first-pitch strike and we weren’t adjusting to that and then she would catch us off balance when we got deep in the counts.”
The loss dropped Lee’s Summit to 6-3 overall and 2-1 in the conference before meeting Blue Springs Thursday.
West stood 4-0 in conference and unbeaten before meeting Raymore-Peculiar on Thursday, but the Titans officially have two losses after self-reporting a rules violation to the Missouri State High School Activities Association. Doane said Harris had practiced seven consecutive days instead of getting the required day of rest after six straight practices. West forfeited its first two victories in the Greater Kansas City tournament and Harris had to sit out two games.
“We self-reported it, we owned up to it,” Doane said. “MSHSAA shows us as 7-2 (on Tuesday), but in our minds we’re still undefeated.”