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Lady Tigers’ Fall Festival championship hopes grounded by Grain Valley

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With her future Missouri State coaches on hand for both days of Ozark’s Fall Festival over the weekend, Ozark’s Abby Ford led the Lady Tigers to the championship game of the Platinum Bracket.

Ozark’s four-game run to the title tilt came to an end Saturday, as Grain Valley handed the tourney hosts an 8-2 setback.

Ford delivered an RBI-single in the final. The senior center-fielder hit safely in all five games and finished 7-for-16 with four runs scored and two RBIs.

Ford was happy to play well in front of Lady Bears head coach Holly Hesse and associate head coach Sue Frederick. She was mindful to not let their presence overwhelm her.

“I saw (Hesse and Frederick) when they walked in,” Ford said. “We can’t have contact, so I just waved at them. It gave me comfort knowing I have already committed to them. They’re here to recruit other players.

“I felt pressure earlier in the season because I had committed (in June) and everyone has expectations of me,” she added. “But I realized that I just need to have fun, play with no pressure and be the best leader I can be.”

Likewise, Ford won’t stress as she is on the verge of joining Ozark’s 100-hit club. She will enter Tuesday’s trip to Nixa with 97 career hits, despite missing all of last season due to a torn ACL. She had 82 hits through her sophomore season and has 15 hits this season.

“I’m not counting (my hits) and I’m not going to put pressure on myself,” she said.

Ozark (9-3) managed just two hits against Grain Valley pitcher Hailey Hemme. In addition to Ford’s single, Savannah Hughes belted a solo home run. Hughes has four homers on the season.

Hemme was effective by repeatedly working the inside corner of the plate.

“I don’t know if our timing was off or she was hitting her spots well and getting it in our hands, but she was sawing our bats off at least once or twice an inning,” Ozark coach Jimmy Nimmo said. “She set up the hitters well and her off-speed pitch was consistent. She kept us off balance, came back with something hard inside and was very successful.”

“It was challenging with her speed inside,” Lady Tigers second baseman Courtney Merrell said. “It was tough to turn on it. I had two popups because she jammed me inside.”

Ozark’s ace, Jordyn Foley, did not pitch in the championship game. Hughes started in the center circle and was replaced by Brooklyn Hasler in the fourth inning.

“Jordyn had a fantastic weekend, but her shoulder is hurting,” Nimmo said. “I was tempted to throw her again. But it’s more important to have her fresh for Nixa (on Tuesday), Neosho (on Thursday) and our four games next weekend in Jefferson City.”

Foley was the winning pitcher in Ozark’s 3-2 semifinal win over Marquette on Saturday. She scattered seven hits and struck out seven.

Merrell broke a 2-all tie with two outs in the sixth inning by ripping an RBI-single to score Ford.

In pool play Friday, the Lady Tigers ripped Monett 15-3, edged Eureka 4-3 and whipped Excelsior Springs 15-0.

Foley was the winning pitcher versus Eureka by again scattering seven hits. Ford and Kenna Mayfield both had a pair of hits against Eureka.

Hughes was 3-for-3 and drove in five runs and Natalie Morgan homered against Excelsior Springs.

Morgan also homered off of Monett, as did Audrey Carlton.

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