NEW ATHENS New Athens junior Alina Lance has been at the plate with two on and two out before, though she says she's never quite gotten used to the pressure.
But she had a clear plan with the winning run at third in the bottom of the seventh inning and the Class 1A regional championship on the line — put the ball in play.
She executed, finding just enough space between the third baseman and shortstop to drive home Bre Majzel and give the top-seeded Yellow Jackets a 2-1 win over Okawville.
"I've been in that position a few times this season and it's stressful," she said. "I guess I'm used to it. I'm more comfortable with it now that we got a win out of it."
The victory gave New Athens its second straight regional championship, a first in the history of the program. The team lost a one-run game in last year's super-sectional and just missed a trip to the state tournament.
Lance says her coach urges the Yellow Jackets to focus on post-season advancement one game at a time, but admitted their goal goes beyond the super-sectional.
That journey continues Tuesday at the Odin Class 1A Sectional against Red Hill Regional champion Oblong.
"I want to go farther than what we did last year, that's a personal goal," Lance said. "Coach says take it one step at a time. But from the very beginning this year, after we lost the super sectional 1-0, he said 'I want the championship.' We want to take it all the way. One step at a time."
Okawville finished its season at 9-17, but had defeated New Athens earlier in the season and won its last five in a row. Coach Kristen Storey figured the Rockets could make some noise in the post-season with the return of senior pitcher Macey Wienstroer, who missed the rockey middle part of the Rockets' season with severe injury to her hamstring.
"When we got Macey back, we really had some good games and she pitched probably her best games of the year," said Okawville coach Kristen Storey. "I'm not disappointed in the girls because they played hard and played a good game. I'm very disappointed for them though because they work hard and they stay focused, which is hard in a game like this."
Both Wienstroer and New Athens starter Abby Marlow had occassional issues with the strike zone but were otherwise effective. After giving up runs i n the first inning, the two settled into a pitcher's duel.
Wienstroer allowed just one first-inning hit. But she walked three and hit one.
New Athens senior Jordan Parker drew a one-out walk in the seventh and gave way to pinch runner Bre Majzel. Majzel stole second and advanced to third on a groundout to short.
For the second time in the game, Lance came to the plate with the go-ahead run at third and two outs. In the second inning with runners at both second and third, Lance laced a sinking line drive, which was wasted by a strong defensive play by Okawville left fielder Madison Hackstadt.
Lance didn't hit the ball as hard on her second chance to be the hero, but her groundball found enough of the hole to make a hard play for the Okawville third baseman.
Lance beat the throw by two steps and Majzel crossed the plate with the winning run.
"She without a question made our best contact today, so I had a lot of faith Alina would put the ball in play," said New Athens coach Conrad Widdersham. "Just before the at-bat I told her 'let's see a ground ball.' Ground balls are harder to defend than a fly ball. I was hoping to cause a little mayhem with a ground ball and she did what she had to do."
Okawville got on the board first when leadoff batter Jessie Klasing was hit by a pitch, stole second, advanced to third on a ground ball and scored on an error.
New Athens responded in its half of the first when Lance drew a lead off walk, advanced to second on a ground out and scored the game's only earned run on an RBI single by senior shortstop Denae White.
Marlow didn't allow an Okawville hit until the sixth inning. She allowed two in all, but walked five and hit two.