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Freshmen rule as Timberland captures Fort Zumwalt North tournament crown

Freshmen rule as Timberland captures Fort Zumwalt North tournament crown

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O'FALLON, Mo. — Timberland freshman outfielder Ava Kuzara was overjoyed she got a hit and eventually scored in the first inning Saturday against St. Dominic.

"I thought to myself, 'What a way to start a game,' " she said. "It doesn't get any better that this."

Actually, it did.

Kuzara's elation doubled when she singled and crossed home plate again in the same frame.

Her daily double triggered a nine-run outburst in the opening inning as the Wolves rolled to a 12-2 win in the championship game of the Fort Zumwalt North Tournament.

The Wolves (8-7) came into the two-day, eight-team affair seeded fifth. But they blitzed the entire field, winning all three games by a combined 33-2.

The Wentzville-based school began the day with an 8-0 win over pre-tournament favorite Fort Zumwalt North in the semifinal round.

Kuzara and fellow freshman Audrey Silver led a high-octane ganging attack in the title contest.

Silver pounded a long three-run homer in the second inning to push the lead to 12-2 to quell any thoughts the Crusaders (7-10) might have of a comeback.

Kuzara went 3-for-3 with three singles and three runs scored. She played the leadoff hitter role to perfection by kick-starting the Wolves' biggest inning of the season.

"She's such a sparkplug," Timberland coach Andy Zerr said. "When she gets on, we've got some really good hitters behind her that can make things happen."

That was never more evident than Saturday.

Timberland sent 14 batters to plate in the opening frame and rapped out eight hits. Eleven of the first 12 hitters reached safely. Seven of the first eight scored in an ambush that lasted 27 minutes.

It was the Wolves' largest explosion since they scored 12 runs in the third inning of a 14-6 win over Pleasant Hill on Sept. 16, 2017.

"All of us just started hitting and putting things together," Kuzara said. "Coach told us to be aggressive. You know a first-pitch strike is coming — so jump on it."

St. Dominic scored twice in the top of the first, which seemed to light a fire under the Wolves.

Kuzara and Ilencia Lightbody reached safely before Bailey Broemmer singled to trim the deficit to 2-1. Jamilyn Bagby followed with a run-scoring hit and pitcher Emma Caplinger put her team ahead to stay with an RBI single. Silver, who had four RBI, drove in another run with her first of two hits. Ryen Ehling, the No. 9 hitter in the order, banged out a two-run single to push the lead to 6-3. Kuzara followed with a run-scoring hit and Lightbody capped the eruption with a triple.

Silver's long home run was icing on the cake in the next inning.

Kuzara and Silver are the lone freshmen on the 14-player roster. Both have contributed mightily. Kuzara is hitting .413 with an on-base percentage of .498. Silver is batting .318.

The pair have undergone the usual newbie initiations from the upperclassmen. Kuzara and Silver are in charge of gathering up the softballs and placing them in a bucket after batting practice and other workouts.

"It's OK, I don't mind," Kuzara said.

Added Silver, "It's no big deal. It's what we do."

Zerr is pleased with the progress of his team as the regular-season schedule heads into the home stretch. The Wolves lost six of their first 10, but appear to be rounding into shape.

"We're still trying to get to that point where we can be more consistent," Zerr said. "We're still a team that's trying to learn how to win."

The Zumwalt North crown is a major step in that direction.

"I think people should start to realize that we can be pretty good," Silver said.

Caplinger did a complete about-face. After giving up hits to three of the first five batters she faced, she retired 13 of final 14 including 10 in a row at one juncture.

St. Dominic, which carried a four-game winning streak into the contest, bolted out in front on doubles by Jessie Blaine, Abbie Danchus and Neely Edwards in the first inning.

The Crusaders are also trending upward after losing nine of their first 12 games.

"I tell the girls that it's not how you start, but how you finished that counts the most," St. Dominic coach Noah Duncan said.

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