NORMAL — A strong wind blowing out made a power hitter out of Normal West's No. 9 batter Claire Ambrose.
Ambrose hit a three-run homer as the Ironmen beat the Belleville East Lancers 8-3 on Saturday in the championship game of the Class 4A Normal Community Softball Sectional.
The Ironmen also got a two-run homer from cleanup hitter Megan Holderby and a two-run single from designated player Kourtney Kaisershot.
"You can't make excuses," East coach Natalie Peters said. "I think the wind was the same for both teams today. We made a lot of mistakes today, and they seemed to capitalize every single time we made a mistake."
The Lancers let three wind-blown pop ups drop. Two were in foul territory -- one prior to Kaisershot's single -- and one fell in shallow left field for a single.
"There was a lot of balls in the air that I don't think we stayed aggressive (after)," Peters said. "We made excuses, and we let the wind kind of dictate that. We didn't have the best communication, and they made it count.
"As soon as we made a mistake, they hit the next ball hard. Hat's off to them because they played great."
East pitcher Alison Mitts issued seven walks, including two intentional passes to Holderby. Four of those runners came around to score.
"I just don't think we handled the bottom of their order well," Peters said. "All five of our walks were in the bottom of their order, but in the same respect, Alison has been great for us. Our defense made too many mistakes. She had to try to get too many outs today. They have great hitters up and down their lineup."
During the second inning, Ambrose made the Lancers pay for walking two batters in front of her by sending the first offering from Mitts over the fence in straight-away center field
"You can tell when you hit a ball hard, and it felt really good when I hit it, but I had no idea that it was actually going to go out," Ambrose said. "It was a good feeling seeing that happen."
The homer, the first of the diminutive sophomore's career, put the Ironmen ahead 5-1.
"She can do it all," Normal West coach April Schermann said of Ambrose. "She can bunt, she can slap, she can hit. In practice, she's hit it out. That was her first in a game.
"That was big for us coming in the sectional championship game. That sets the tone when the No. 9 hitters comes up and hits one out."
The Lancers end their season at 30-9. They'll lose three seniors -- center fielder Kayla Fields, left fielder Katie Belleville and third baseman Brittany Hodge -- to graduation.
"Some people say, 'You're only losing three,"' Peters said. "I say, 'That's a really big three.' I couldn't be any prouder of those seniors. They have really given their heart and soul to this program. They've had huge senior years, the best they've ever played in their career. With pressure on them, they've meant business every day in practice and every game. We will miss them a ton, but we do have a lot of experience coming back.
"Hopefully, it will make those kids hungry, and we'll have another great year next year."
The Ironmen (31-3) will play the Minooka Indians at 6 p.m. Monday at Illinois State University in the championship game of the Class 4A Normal Sectional.
The Lancers took a 1-0 lead in the first inning as Fields walked, stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Hodge and scored on a single by Mitts.
Holderby answered with a two-run homer to left-center field in the bottom of the first.
After Ambrose's homer pushed Normal West's lead to 5-1, the Lancers got a two-run homer by Mitts in the third inning to close the gap to 5-3.
Mitts clubbed a 2-2 pitch over the center-field fence.
For the game, Mitts went 3-for-3 with a walk.
"Alison up at the plate today was phenomenal," Peters said. "I think she was on base every single time."
The Ironmen scored three runs in the fourth inning on a bases-loaded walk and Kaisershot's single.
The Lancers stranded seven runners in the game. They had six hits off Ironmen freshman pitcher Reganne Camp.
"Any time you have wind like this, you have to keep the ball down," Peters said. "Their pitcher is a drop ball pitcher so that worked to their advantage today. Any time the pitches are down, it's hard to drive the ball out of the park."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.