EFFINGHAM — A little speed proved to be just the cure for the slumping bat of Mattoon senior Kaitlyn Bath on Friday at the Class 3A Effingham Sectional.
Bath picked on pitches from hard-throwing Althoff ace Sara Birk for a three-run home run in the second inning and added a solo homer in the fourth to lead the Green Wave to an 8-0 semifinal win at Effingham High School.
"Kaitlyn hasn't really hit the ball very well recently. But she's the kind of hitter who loves to hit against fast pitching,'' Mattoon coach Nikki Trower said. "We hadn't really seen many pitchers recently who throw hard. She (Birk) threw as hard as anybody we've seen and Kaitlyn didn't miss either pitch''
Meanwhile, junior southpaw Kacey Starwalt kept the Crusaders off balance, finishing with a two-hit shutout as Mattoon (34-3) moved into the sectional title game on Saturday against Centralia.
Althoff ends its season at 10-21.
But the day belonged to Bath, who picked on a 2-1 Birk delivery in the second inning and drove it over the center-field fence as the Green Wave took early command.
Bath's home run scored Kayla Jacobs, who led off with a walk, and Starwalt, who had followed with a single. Both runners moved up a base on a ground out and scored on Bath's first homer.
"It was a fastball right down the middle. I knew I hit it good, but I didn't know if it would go over the fence. I was running hard in case it didn't,'' Bath said. "It felt good because it gave us an early lead.''
Starwalt, who got out of a potential jam in the first inning by getting Katie Nagel to pop into a double play on a bunt attempt, didn't allow a hit until Shannon Wuller singled with one out in the fourth inning.
By that time, Bath's second home run had given the Green Wave a 4-0 lead.
"We just seemed slow. We seemed sluggish. It was like we just weren't ready to play tonight,'' Althoff coach Mike Dori said. "I don't know if the heat took it out of us or what.
"I'm proud that the girls kept battling all year and that we were able to win a regional. We've got a young team so maybe it will give us a little boost going into next season.''
Starwalt, who saw just one Althoff baserunner reach second the entire game, allowed a leadoff single to Birk in the seventh inning, but retired the next three hitters to end the game.
"Our goal is to get to the state tournament. Anything less will be disappointing,'' Starwalt said. "Getting the lead early was huge. I could just relax, throw strikes and let my defense do the work."
The Green Wave added four unearned runs in seventh inning on three Althoff errors.