SALEM — After Alton Marquette's Alexis Silkwood was intentionally walked in the top of the ninth inning, she told Maddie Youngblood in the on-deck circle to take it personally.
Youngblood delivered a single to center field, driving in the go-ahead run in the Explorers 4-3 win over the Columbia Eagles on Monday in the championship game of the Class 3A Salem Softball Sectional.
"To me as a pitcher, they were saying they could get Maddie out," Silkwood explained. "She has to take that personally, and she delivered.''
Youngblood, who was 0-for-4 at the time, took Silkwood's words to heart.
"I know she's a great hitter, and if I was the other team, I would probably walk her, too," Youngblood said. "I didn't want them to think I wasn't good enough. I knew I was good enough to come through for my team."
Youngblood's single brought home Claire Morrissey, who had reached on an infield single with two outs.
"We've talked all four years that we have to have somebody hitting behind Alexis who hits very well because teams are tempted to walk her, and the person behind her really has to make them pay," Marquette coach Dan Wiedman said.
Columbia coach Rhonda Major had no regets about intentionally walking Silkwood, who had already gone 3-for-3 with a triple, even though it put the go-ahead run in scoring position.
"I'd do that again," Major said. "We fought to the end. We knew it was going to be a good game. I'm just proud of the way my girls fought. We had great at-bats. We had only five strikeouts the whole game."
The five strikeouts were a season-low total for Silkwood, who averages 16 strikeouts per seven-inning game.
The Eagles had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh after Laura Roessler singled with two outs.
Kaylee Bastien followed with a walk, but Silkwood got Alexis Royer to fly out to right field for the final out.
The loss spoiled junior Brianna Weilbacher's stellar pitching performance.
Weilbacher surrendered five hits and struck out 15 batters.
"Bri did a great job all year for us," Major said. "She held it together out there for us at some big times, and 15 strikeouts is unbelievable."
The Explorers (29-6) will play the Mattoon Green Wave (30-4) at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Class 3A Chatham Glenwood Super-Sectional.
Mattoon beat Chatham Glenwood 5-0 Monday in the championship game of the Mount Zion Sectional.
The Eagles had their season ended by the Explorers for the second straight season. They finished 30-6.
The Eagles will lose six seniors to graduation.
"I'm proud of the girls," Major said. "Thirty wins is a great accomplishment. These seniors have had over 100 career wins. It's a great group, and I think they showed that on the field today."
The Eagles took a 3-0 lead in the third inning.
Rachel Garcia was hit by a pitch with one out and Bastien drew a two-out walk.
Royer singled off an 0-2 pitch to bring in Garcia and Taryn Pena tripled to right-center field off a 3-2 pitch to bring home Bastien and Royer.
Even though they trailed 3-0, Wiedman believed his team would make a comeback.
"We got down 3-0 and I just kind of reflected back to 2010 when Sherrard got us down 4-0 in the super-sectional and the girl was throwing a no-hitter against us and we battled back in the bottom of the seventh and tied it up and we won," Wiedman said. "The following year, we were in the super-sectional against Stanford Olympia and they got us down 2-0 or 3-0 and the kids fought back. This group of kids has battled for the last four years."
The Explorers tied the game with three runs in the fifth inning.
Morrissey walked and Silkwood reached on an infield single.
After Youngblood hit into a force play at third base, Morgan Wiedman walked to load the bases.
Rebecca Griffin hit a two-run double to left-center field.
The Explorers scored the tying run on a grounder to the shortstop by Bailey McAfee.
Bastien's throw pulled first baseman Savannah Wittenbrink off the bag and into the path of McAfee.
Wittenbrink caught the ball, the two players collided and Wittenbrink fell backward. Wiedman scored on the play.
It was a tense game the rest of the way as both teams tried to scratch out a run.
The Explorers had a chance to score in the seventh after Silkwood tripled to right field with one, but the runner was stranded at third.
The Eagles led off the fourth, sixth and eighth innings with singles. They bunted the runner to second base each time, but they couldn't get the key hit to bring in a run.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.