Three Belleville West seniors went into the seventh inning at O’Fallon down by a pair of runs, but with plenty to play for — namely, the shot at the class 4A regional championship four years of high school softball had yet to provide them.
They’ll get that chance thanks to a five-run, two-out rally that gave the Maroons a 7-5 semifinal win over the host team of the O’Fallon regional Thursday.
Kiri Evans, Izzy Holtrop and Alyssa James — the only three seniors in West’s batting order — each had RBI hits in the comeback.
“We were almost in tears in the dugout,” said Holtrop, whose two-run double drove in the go-ahead runs. “We just decided we had to put it all on the line that inning because it might be our last.”
Instead, the Maroons move on to the 4A regional championship game against. No. 1 seeded Edwardsville at O’Fallon High School’s Milburn Campus at 4 p.m. Friday.
West, 16-13, is the only team this season to defeat Edwardsville in Southwestern Conference play.
“We just want to come out and play hard like we did today and do our best to come away with a win,” Evans said. “It would be the first time for us. These seniors haven’t won a regional before.”
The two teams swapped first-inning runs, but O’Fallon scored two in the second on RBI hits by Miley Brunner and Jordan DeRemer. In the third, designated player Jade Williams hit a solo home run off the scoreboard in left field to put the Panthers on top 4-1.
Evans picked up an RBI single in the fifth to narrow the lead, but the Maroons went down in order in the sixth. To that point, O’Fallon freshman starter Hayleigh Juenger had allowed just six hits while walking one and striking out four.
But junior Allyson Winkleman sparked the seventh-inning comeback with a flare over the second baseman’s head into right-center field, which she was able to leg into a double. Evans drove her home with a two-out single to make it a one-run game, then moved into position to score the tying run with an obstruction call on O’Fallon first baseman Caroline Keller.
“I saw her playing really far deep,” Evans said. “I didn’t get the steal sign, but I knew if I went that she’d be in my way and I’d get the call to go to second. I ran straight (for the base) and happened to run into her.”
After a walk to Claire Marlen, sophomore catcher Aleigha Cory singled to drive home Evans. Holtrop followed with a hooking line drive that fell just inside the right field line for a two-run double.
James, the eighth batter of the inning, then singled home Holtrop to put the Maroons ahead 7-4.
“We kept doing what we needed to do and got some big hits. It’s a good thing we got a couple insurance runs, because it turns out we needed them. O’Fallon is a good hitting team and, lo and behold, they scored again in the bottom of the inning.”
Williams got her second RBI of the game for O’Fallon with a long sacrifice fly that put Evans’ back against the fence in right. But West junior pitcher Paige Cates, who lasted the full seven inning, was able to close out the win.
Cates allowed nine hits in the game, but just one after the fourth inning. She walked two and struck out two.
O’Fallon, a regional champion a year ago, finished the season with 18 wins, though frequently starting up to four freshman and a sophomore.
“They’ve grown so much this year and I don’t think they realize how much they’ve grown,” said first-year coach Lauren Muniz. “We’re still so young so the best is still ahead for some of these girls.”