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Quarterfinal loss fails to dim Howell Central’s record softball season

Francis Howell Central recently advanced to the Class 4 softball quarterfinals for the second straight season. The Spartans won a school-record 21 games this fall. [Peter Fong photo.]

Oct. 28 was not a magical day for the Francis Howell Central softball team. For the second straight season, the Spartans had their drive for a Class 4 state tournament berth stopped in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.

This time around, it was Columbia Rock Bridge’s Bruins that handed Howell Central a disappointing 8-0 loss in a Class 4 quarterfinal contest at Francis Howell Central.

It was a far cry from the result that Spartans coach Zack Sheets and his club were looking for, but Sheets was upbeat afterward and. He said the season had been quite successful with its sophomore-laden roster.

“I’m super proud of our team and it’s just one of those disappointing things where this group just doesn’t get to be together anymore,” Sheets said. “We graduate a few players and we return a bunch [of players] which is the exciting thing.”

The season was definitely a special one for Howell Central. In getting to the quarterfinals, the Spartans won a school-record 21 games this fall, finishing with a 21-9 record. Along the way, they took second place behind state-ranked Troy in the Troy Tournament, placed second in the Ozark Tournament to state-ranked Raymore-Peculiar, and finished second in their own tournament to Northwest-Cedar Hill in September.

In addition, the Spartans won their second straight district championship, second straight sectional title, and advanced to the quarterfinals in Class 4 for the second straight season.

“You win 21 games, set a school record, win back to back district championships, and back to back sectionals and you’re in the quarterfinals two years in a row and have a chance for the Final Four, it’s one of those things where if you had told me that that was gonna happen before the season started, we would have taken that deal with a chance to go to the Final Four again,” Sheets said.

A four game-winning streak with victories over Fort Zumwalt South, Francis Howell North, Timberland, and Warrenton from Oct. 7-14 got the Spartans rolling just in time for the playoffs.

Then the Spartans dispatched Howell North [10-0], and Francis Howell [8-1], to win the Class 4, District 6 championship, and blasted Pattonville 17-3 in the sectional round to punch their quarterfinal game ticket.

Sheets credited the contributions of senior shortstop Olivia Fong [.417] senior outfielder Kaylee Morris [.467], sophomore pitcher Kennedy Jensen and sophomore leadoff hitter Emily Chadwick [536] with helping drive the Spartans postseason run.

“Olivia Fong and Kaylee Morris, those two in the middle of the order did a heck of a job for us,” said Sheets. “On the flip side, Kennedy Jensen our pitcher had to battle and face quite the schedule [of opponents] and had a super successful year. Emily Chadwick is a great competitor with great talent.”

The best part of coaching this club for Sheets was not the games, the wins, but the road trips and the time the players were able to bond away from the field.

“The biggest thing was we got to watch four seniors work with 10 sophomores on any given day and cool stuff doesn’t show up in the stat column or in the games but to see the relationships build and the memories made, and that’s special part about any team or group of people you’re with,” Sheets said.

Seniors Lauren Barnes, Cece Carter, Fong and Morris all graduate but the Spartans return a talented sophomore class led by Chadwick, Jensen and Josie Bezzole.

With its new sophomore core in place, Howell Central plans to be a force in local prep softball for the next few seasons to come.

“We’ve made some noise [that] we’re a team in the St. Louis area that is gonna be a force,” Sheets said. “The cool thing looking forward is we graduate four seniors, but everybody else on our roster was a sophomore, so we return a bunch and we’ve got a good incoming freshman class, so we’re excited about that.”

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