The Oblong Panthers managed only three hits Tuesday against New Athens pitcher Abby Marlow, but it only took one by Cheyenne Wells to decide the game.
Wells crushed a fastball for a solo home run leading off the fifth inning and Oblong added another run in the sixth to escape with a 2-0 victory over New Athens in the semifinals of the Class 1A Odin Softball Sectional.
Most softball fields have considerably shorter fences than the 270-foot monster at Odin City Park, so Wells’ hard shot rolled to the fence in the left-field corner as she circled the bases.
“I didn’t even see it coming. I just blinked,” Wells said of her first home run this season. “That’s why I was so excited.”
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Oblong coach Galen Slover was impressed by the shot hit by Wells. Especially since his 18-6 team had just one hit to that point and had struck out seven times on the way to 12 overall.
“That would have been out in most parks,” Slover said. “She really got into that. She put a good swing on that one.”
Once Slover saw where the ball was and knowing it was a 0-0 game, the green light was flashing in the third-base coaching box.
“There was no doubt we were going to try to score her,” he said. “That’s 270 feet, so it’s her speed against their speed and I think you’re going to win that most times.”
Oblong pitcher and University of Evansville recruit Emily Lockhart was impressive, shutting down New Athens (22-8) on three hits and stranding six baserunners. Lockhart also had seven strikeouts.
“She probably throws as hard as anybody we’ve seen all year,” said New Athens coach Conrad Widdersheim, whose team reached the super-sectional last spring. “She’s got a great rise-ball, which was even more effective in the wind today, and that’s something we don’t see a lot of, a really good rise ball that really jumps up.”
New Athens had scoring opportunities against Lockhart, including runners at second and third i the fourth with a runner on second base on four other occasions. The Yellow Jackets simply could not get the big hit when they needed it.
“That was a little disappointing, just no timely hits for us,” Widdersheim said. “We knew that this was a tough pitcher coming in here and we knew that we were going to have to manage the game well and just scratch and claw for runs.
“We got people on base and were able to move them over pretty successfully ... we just couldn’t get that big hit to score any runs.”
Marlow had allowed only a bloop single until Wells’ homer in the fifth.
“She’s a load,” Slover said. “This is probably the fewest hits output we’ve had this year.”
“She’s a lot faster than any other girls we’ve faced,” Wells said.
Widdersheim had nothing but praise for his pitcher.
“I really felt pretty confident up to that point because they really weren’t doing much,” he said. “They weren’t hitting the ball hard. I know we weren’t either, but Abby was throwing great. Just one pitch, one girl connects on it fully and on a field like this where it’s 270 feet down the line that thing just kept on running.
“Maybe the ball goes out on a normal field anyway, but you never know. Maybe it one-hops the fence and she’s stuck at second base.”
A double steal in the fourth gave New Athens runners at second and third, but Allison Stolte struck out and Aleen Dutkanych flied out to second.
New Athens leadoff hitter Alina Lance singled with one out in the fifth and stole second, but Lockhart retired Jenna Alfeldt on a grounder.