Belleville East softball coach Natalie Peters took one from the playbook of her former coach and mentor Rita Menke.
The Lancers bunted, pressured and stole their way to a 10-0 short-game win over Belleville West in the semifinals of the Normal Class 4A Sectional Tournament Tuesday.
The small-ball strategy was vintage of East’s 614-win coaching legend, but a departure from the power-game that earned East its regional title.
“We won in a little different way today,” Peter said. “We drill base running and that’s something that goes all the way back to when us coaches played for Coach Menke. That was the game back then. It was 40 feet between bases and it was bunt, run and be aggressive ... That was our game plan today.”
Belleville West, meanwhile, wasn’t the same team it’s been lately either. After posting a pair of two-out, seventh-inning comebacks to upset both O’Fallon and top-seeded Edwardsville, the Maroons allowed East seven unearned runs off six errors.
And whatever come-back magic the Maroons had left was neutralized by Lancers starting pitcher Kristina Bettis. The East junior shut out West on four scattered hits with one walk and three strikeouts in front of a flawless defense.
“Coach Peters is always drilling it in about throwing strikes and getting ahead, so that’s what I try to do,” Bettis said. “It’s so much easier to pitch with a lead because it’s less pressure on me. It gives me more confidence to keep throwing strikes.”
The Lancers (29-6) advance to the sectional championship game against either Normal West or Moline at 11 a.m. Saturday at Normal West High School.
East took the lead in the first inning when senior outfielder Amanda Dermody got a two-out RBI triple, then scored on a single by Bettis.
The Lancers generated two more runs in the third. Courtesy runner Ally Blomberg stole third base and scored when the throw from the catcher sailed into left because the Maroons were not covering the base. Dermody later scored her second run of the game as the front end of an attempted double steal.
“We just kind of saw what was in front of us and tried to take advantage of what opportunities there were,” said Dermody.
The wheels fell off the Maroons’ hope of advancement in the sixth inning, when two infield hits, three misplayed sacrifice bunts, and a throwing error put the Lancers into motion. Nine batted for East in the inning and six runs scored, but the only RBI credited went to junior Kendall Patton.
Patton lined out to West second baseman Tori Oldham, but Bettis scored from third with the 10th run that ended the game.
The Maroons season ends at 17-14.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s loss, West coach Casey Garrett could only thank seniors Kailey Bold, Kiri Evans, Izzy Holtrop and Alyssa James for their leadership throughout and up-and-down season.
“I can’t feel good about how it ended; you can’t make mistakes against a team like East and expect to come out on top,” Garrett said. “But this is the most fun I’ve had with a group of girls in a long time. My seniors really stepped up at the end of the season and did some great things.”