Wednesday’s National Trail Conference tournament quarterfinal between St. Anthony and South Central was not for the faint of heart. After the Lady Bulldogs used a three-run fourth inning to battle back and take a 4-3 lead, South Central’s bats came alive late.
Unfortunately for the Lady Cougars, they couldn’t get the hits when they needed them most, leaving five runners stranded in the final two innings, as St. Anthony pulled out a 5-4 victory to advance to Friday’s semifinals.
“The girls like to make me stress a little bit,” Lady Bulldogs coach Crystal Tipton said. “Ultimately we dug deep, and they did get it done.”
South Central popped out to center at the start of the sixth, but responded with a walk to Kanady Grzegorek and a single by Bailey Ritter to put runners on the corners.
St. Anthony’s Meghan Woltman struck out the next batter, before a single by Sierra Gunnels loaded the bags. Ignoring the pressure, Woltman calmly retired Kellie Crain with a strikeout, leaving the Cougars empty-handed and still trailing by one run.
“We had our chances,” Lady Cougars coach Gary Kapper said. “The girls know we had our chances, we just couldn’t get that hit.”
The Lady Bulldogs added a run for insurance in the bottom of the frame, when Makayla Walsh batted in her third run of the afternoon on a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Paige Koester. Walsh’s last run served as vindication, as the junior struck out with the bases loaded back in the second inning.
“She wasn’t swinging at her pitches (early),” Tipton said. “She was swinging at some balls. I said, ‘Go out there, find your pitch, and swing at that one.’ She did.”
Now leading by a pair, South Central again forced St. Anthony fans into high levels of anxiety, recording singles in two of its first three at bats. With the winning run at the plate, Woltman got Mia Campbell to ground into a fielder’s choice, setting the stage for Grzegorek to enter the batter’s box with runners on second and third, with two outs.
Tipton moved Walsh from her shortstop position to the mound, and Walsh started with two strikes before a wild pitch allowed Macie Cain to score. Suddenly up just one run, Walsh wound and delivered a heater down the middle, fanning Grzegorek to preserve the nail-biting win.
“We just didn’t get those back-to-back hits when we needed it in the sixth and seventh,” Kapper said.
St. Anthony took the lead for good in the fourth inning, starting with a double by Woltman to center field. D.J. Brummer followed with a single and stolen base, giving the Bulldogs runners at second and third with no outs.
South Central starter Abby King got Megan Nuxoll to ground out to first, but Koester responded one batter later with an infield single that scored Woltman. Morgan Gardewine walked on the ensuing at bat, and Walsh stepped to the plate with runners an all three bags.
She drove into a pitch that was a tad high, but got on top of the ball enough to rip a two-RBI single to right center, pulling the Lady Bulldogs all the way back from a 3-1 deficit.
“She settled down and her did job,” Tipton said of Walsh. “We were really proud of her.”
Walsh also got credit for the save on the final out, but it was Woltman’s grinding effort throughout the game that helped St. Anthony to the win. Woltman surrendered 11 hits on the afternoon, yet none of the South Central connections turned into extra bases.
“They had some singles in there, but she did keep them on their toes,” Tipton said. “She got some strikeouts, those hits didn’t kill us.”
Woltman struck out eight batters on the day, and only walked one to pick up the win.
South Central’s best offensive inning came in the third, when the Cougars were able to capitalize on a pair of St. Anthony errors and aggressive running on the bases. The Lady Bulldogs were off on throws to first and third, giving the Cougars a couple of easy paths to home plate.
“We kind of threw that ball around there on first and third, hoping to get an out,” Tipton said. “It shot us in the foot. We’ve got to clean that up a little.”
Despite the mistakes, St. Anthony held on for the win, and ran its record to 10-6 on the season. More importantly, the Lady Bulldogs live to fight another day in the winner’s bracket, as Tipton’s squad will travel to Windsor on Friday to battle the second-seeded Lady Blue Devils.
South Central falls to 3-11 with the loss, and the Lady Cougars will take on St. Elmo/Brownstown Friday at home.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at email@example.com
South Central 012 000 1 4 11 1
St. Anthony 100 301 x 5 9 4
WP -Woltman LP - King
South Central: Gunnels (2 1B); Crain (1B); Cain (2 1B); King (3 1B); Campbell (1B); Ritter (2 1B, RBI).
St. Anthony: Koester (2 1B, RBI); Walsh (1B, 3 RBI); Niebrugge (1B, RBI); Richards (1B); Woltman (2 2B); Brummer (1B); Nuxoll (2B).