Megan Brown has been a big part of regional softball championships before.
But when her Dupo Tigers clinched their fourth straight in Class 2A with a 5-4 win over Wood River on Monday, the tears flowed as if it was her first.
It’s been a long way back into the pitcher’s circle for Brown, who was limited to playing the field last season because of a shoulder injury. The last time she had pitched with a championship on the line was as a freshman, when she struck out 10 Staunton batters for the first of the Tigers’ string of regional titles.
“I haven’t pitched in this scenario in so long,” Brown said as her voice cracked. “To know I could come out and do it brought a lot of relief. I was told might be able to pitch again, or even play again. Getting through the shoulder injury and getting through this just showed how worthwhile all the hard work was.”
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Dupo (20-8) advances to the Class 2A Williamsville Sectional, where it will face the host team in the semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Getting there wasn’t pretty. Two of Wood River’s four runs were unearned. Brown allowed seven hits, walked three and had to pitch around three errors.
She also loaded the bases in seventh inning when she hit Wood River cleanup hitter and all-state catcher Caroline Campbell in the gut with a two-strike pitch.
Brown ended the game, though, by striking out junior Peyton Young, who had a game-tying two-run single in the fifth.
“I hit Caroline and was like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ I was in shock,” Brown said. “When I got the strikeout to end the game, it just let it out.”
Senior shortstop Skylure Barlow, a .425 hitter and a key member of last year’s team that finished runner-up in Class 2A, twice came up clutch for Dupo.
Wood River tied the game 2-2 on a run-scoring line drive by Young that handcuffed the Dupo left fielder and an RBI double by Kayla Aligholi.
But freshman Holly Wilson led off the Dupo half of the fourth with a walk followed by a double from sophomore Cameron Foster. Both scored on a double deep to center field from Barlow, who said she was just trying to make contact to the right side of the infield.
“When she got to second and third, I knew I had to hit the ball to the right side to get her in,” Barlow said. “I was just trying to make contact.”
Wood River tied the game once again in the fifth on Young’s two-run single. But a perfect sixth by Brown set up the Tigers for the game-winner.
Foster led off with an infield single, advanced to second on a throwing error and to third on a while pitch. She scored the go-ahead run on a long sacrifice fly to right field by Barlow, her third RBI of the game.
“Skylure has been crunch-time all year long,” said first-year Dupo coach Tommy Norman. “We are prone to mistakes but we just somehow find a way to win.”
Junior Morgan Moxey took the loss for Wood River. She gave up eight hits and walked seven while striking out five. She also pitched around four Oilers errors.
Wood River’s season ended at 16-18, including a win over Dupo in April.