After dropping an early league game to Belleville West, the Edwardsville Tigers knew they had little margin for error if they wanted to repeat as Southwestern Conference softball champions.
Kallen Loveless threw a three-hit shutout and Rachel Anderson hit a two-run homer as the Tigers beat the O'Fallon Panthers 7-0 Thursday in a winner-take-all showdown for the SWC title.
"They are (special), especially when you lose that first game and put yourself behind,'' Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said of winning a second straight SWC championship. "That's what I told them. I'm very proud of where they've come from the first game to the last game, not only physically but mentally as well. I love this group of kids. They're mentally tough, they'll battle and they'll play hard, and that's all I can ask them to do.''
Loveless threw struck out six and walked one in the helping the Tigers improve to 29-3 overall, 12-2 in the SWC.
"It means the world,'' Loveless said. "That's our goal all season, just to get that conference title and we did it this year.''
The Tigers' other SWC loss was a 6-2 setback against Alton on April 29.
"With our two slip-ups and still being able to win the conference, that's a great accomplishment,'' Blade said.
The Panthers dropped to 22-10 overall, 11-3 in the SWC. They fell to the Tigers for the third time this season.
"Things just didn't come together as we would have liked,'' O'Fallon coach Kelly Paproth said. "We just had kind of a domino effect of errors and overthrows. We didn't play our kind of error-free ball, and that's what happens when you don't play good defense.''
Paproth said she was confident that the Panthers would regroup for the start of the Class 4A Belleville East Regional next week.
The sectional is being played at O'Fallon City Park, so there is a possibility of a O'Fallon-Edwardsville rematch on the same field in two weeks.
"Luckily, this game isn't the end of the season,'' Paproth said. "We have to learn from this experience as we learn from all experiences, apply and move on and hopefully we get to see them again.''
Anderson was thrown out on a close play at the plate in the first inning as the Tigers tried to score on an errant throw to third base after a single by Loveless.
The Tigers got on the scoreboard in the second inning as Torrie Kruse doubled and scored on a single by Megan Radae.
An error and a passed ball enabled Radae to advance to third, and she scored on a sacrifice fly by Katelyn Bobrowski.
The Tigers went 4-0 on Anderson's two-run homer in the third. Anderson's homer scored Ari Arnold, who had singled.
"It was outside and high, one of my favorite spots I have to say,'' Anderson said.
Anderson's homer was her fourth of the season, but only the second over the fence. She hit her other out-of-the-park at Collinsville.
"We've been talking all season about how she hits home runs in practice, but she's only hit one (over the fence) in her life during a game so it was cool to see her hit one today,'' Loveless said.
The Tigers added two runs on the fifth as Olivia Nicholls and Anna Walshleger scored on an error off a sacrifice bunt by Arnold.
Arnold doubled and scored on a single by Kruse in the seventh inning to round out the scoring for the Tigers.
The Panthers had their best scoring chance in the second inning when Becca Proper walked with one out and Taylor Underwood followed with a double.
Loveless escaped the jam with a ground out to third base and a pop up to first base.
The win came on the same day as Blade's parents, Karen and Don Blade, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
"Unbelievable,'' Blade said. "I'm just glad they could make it today.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.