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St. Anthony’s Lucy Fearday screams after a home run by Stacie Vonderheide in the Class 1A Sectional Semifinals against Hutsonville (Palestine) on Tuesday, July 8, 2021, at St. Anthony High School, in Effingham, Illinois. (Alex Wallner/Effingham Daily News)

There haven’t been many seasons where the St. Anthony softball team has played this far into it.

First-year head coach Makayla Walsh is trying to change that narrative, however, and, so far, has her team on the right track.

On Tuesday, the Bulldogs advanced to the Class 1A Sectional Finals after a dominating 10-0 win over Hutsonville (Palestine) in five innings. St. Anthony appears in the Super Sixteen for the first time since 2013 — when Walsh was a junior for the Bulldogs.

“It’s an exciting time for all the girls,” Walsh said. “Before the beginning of the season, I brought the girls into the gym, had them look at all the banners, and I said, ‘This is the farthest we’ve been. It’s time to make a change and keep adding to that.’ So, at the beginning of the season, they knew that; they had that in the back of their mind. Now, it’s a matter of them applying it.”

No matter what St. Anthony did on Tuesday, the result seemed to always go in the Bulldogs’ direction.

In the first inning, leadoff hitter Cameron Rios reached base on a single, but it didn’t take her long to wind up at third.

With Addie Wernsing at the plate, Rios used her speed to steal second and then reach third after a wild pitch to push the first run 60 feet away.

Shortly after that, the Bulldogs found themselves ahead 1-0, after Rios scored on a dropped third strike and put out by Wernsing.

From there, the lead only ballooned as the Bulldogs pounced on the Lady Tigers for nine runs in the final two innings, highlighted by a six-run fourth.

Stacie Vonerheide started the sixth by blasting a solo home run that led to her teammates running out of the dugout and greeting her at the plate.

Then, Alexis Stephens tripled and scored one batter later on an RBI single by Rios.

Wernsing and Haley Niebrugge followed that with back-to-back RBI singles of their own before Lucy Fearday doubled and scored on a Maddie Kibler base hit that pushed across the 10th and final run of the contest.

“That was the cherry on top of the game,” Walsh said. “I think when the girls get one hit, two hits; then they think that hitting is contagious. So, we have to keep chipping away at that, and I think they were like, ‘Let’s put the nail in the coffin here and end this game.’”

However, it wasn’t just the offense that excelled.

With the season on the line, Walsh turned to Fearday to pace the team in the circle, and she didn’t disappoint.

Fearday allowed one hit and fanned eight batters to earn the win, but she didn’t take all the credit for her outing.

“Maddie [Kibler] was back there stealing strikes for me,” Fearday said. “She’s a great catcher, and we had a great infield.”

Additionally, Walsh pointed out how much better she thinks Fearday is when she has time to recuperate.

“We were having a lot of games throughout the beginning of the season. Four to five to six games and you can tell with those girls how tired they get,” Walsh said. “Pitching every day, but you can tell when she has a day off, she’s very refreshed, and she’s ready to go. She looks her best when she has a day off.”

St. Anthony moves to 18-8 on the season. The Bulldogs face Casey-Westfield on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. at Casey-Westfield.

Both teams met on May 15, with Casey-Westfield coming away with an 11-4 win.

Contact EDN Sports Editor Alex Wallner at 217-347-7151 ext. 124 or alex.wallner@effinghamdailynews.com

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