By BRADEN LAYER Daily News
Effingham Daily News
---- — NEOGA - On May 7, Neoga scored 10 runs in the first inning and cruised to a 12-2 victory over Okaw Valley.
What a difference a week makes.
That, and the strong arm of the Lady Timberwolves’ Amanda McClain.
The Lady Indians (8-14-1) could get no offense going in round two between the two foes during the opening round of the Windsor tournament, falling 7-1 to Okaw Valley to bring their season to a close.
“They had their best pitcher out there,” Neoga coach Clay Haurberg said. “That girl can throw hard, and we didn’t jump on it, try to get out in front. She threw a lot of first pitch strikes.”
Neoga was held hitless until the sixth, when an RBI single from Kristin Albin finally broke through McClain’s mastery on the mound. Kieran Effner reached first on balls in the first at-bat of the inning, and advanced to third off a stolen base and a wild pitch, setting the stage for Albin’s big shot.
“We didn’t take our hacks at it until later in the game,” Haurberg said. “If she gets ahead of you, she’s got enough mustard that she can play around with you a little bit. We knew coming in she was going to be the pivotal player.”
The Lady Indians finished with the sole run off Albin’s RBI, and two total hits on the afternoon. But by the time Neoga was able to bring home its first tally, Okaw Valley was already playing in front.
Haurberg’s worst fear came true early, when McClain was able to immediately pitch with the lead as Okaw Valley plated two in the top half of the first inning.
“It set the table for them to dominate with their pitching,” Haurberg said. “You get down 2-0 right away, I said to my assistant coach, ‘This is not the way you want to start with McClain on the hill.’”
Okaw Valley scored both runs off an RBI double to left field from Addie Kesterson, and the Lady Timberwolves were in the driver’s seat almost immediately.
Through the first five innings , Neoga got on base twice, both coming on walks from McClain to Effner and Whitney Jean. In each instance, the Lady Indians couldn’t bring home a run.
Though they did manage to cut the deficit to 3-1 after six, the Lady Timberwolves sprinted to the finish line in the seventh. Okaw Valley plated four more off four hits and three Neoga errors, effectively ending the Lady Indians’ chances. Neoga got one runner on the bags with a single from Teah Beals in the bottom of inning seven, but Effner’s srikeout two batters later sealed the deal.
McClain finished with nine strikeouts on the afternoon, pitching all seven innings with three walks for the victory.
Neoga’s Bayley Neece took the loss, surrendering seven runs off eight hits. Neece only walked one.
The defeat marked the end to a dramatic turnaround year for the program, as the Lady Indians closed with their highest win total, eight, since the 2002 season. Beals and Stephanie Roderick closed out their high-school careers on Monday, and Haurberg said the two were instrumental in righting the ship.
“They’re certainly girls who’ve seen the lowest parts of the program,” he said. “They were a part of this turnaround, and with all the girls we have coming back, we can get this thing on the winning side next year.”
Okaw Valley advances to today’s game against St. Anthony.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Okaw Valley 200 010 4 7 8 2
Neoga 000 001 0 1 2 7
WP - McClain LP - Neece
Neoga: Albin (1B, RBI); Roderick (1B).