Edwardsville softball coach Lori Blade didn't necessarily want to use Kallen Loveless in the pitcher's circle two days in a row.
But with the playoff schedule condensed by rain outs and post-season advancement at stake, she was able to put her concerns aside.
Loveless delivered in a 10-2 sectional semifinal win over Belleville East Monday by relying on pitches low in the strike zone and stellar defensive work behind her.
And for the second year in a row, she and the Tigers advanced to a 4A sectional championship game against Normal. Loveless and the Tigers clinched the regional title with an 11-1 win over Alton just the day before.
"I was concerned going back-to-back with Kallen and I knew we had to get her some runs,"Blade said. "But she really threw well and our defense was really good today. They've been that way all year behind Kallen."
Leading the defensive effort were senior shortstop Ari Arnold and junior second baseman Jordan Corby, who together accounted for 12 of 21 outs behind their pitcher. Counting Loveless' four strikeouts, the Tigers' middle infield left just five outs for everybody else.
Corby turned an unassisted double play in the fourth. Arnold snagged a looping line drive to rob East's Annie Eversman of a hit in the fifth.
But after backing Loveless through a six-inning short-game of Alton the day before, Arnold and Corby knew to be prepared.
"We went in knowing we'd have to have Kallen's back," Corby said.
With her teammate nodding at her side, Arnold handed credit back to Loveless.
"Our outstanding pitcher did a great job keeping the ball down and producing ground ball outs," she said. "To come in and do what Kallen just did against a team that's that good at hitting is impressive. Her hard work really shows."
The Edwardsville offense did its part to create a cushion for its pitcher, too. It blew the game open with a six-hit, five-run flurry in the fifth.
Corby was 4-for-4 with four runs scored during the game. Batting from the No. 2 spot, she jump-started rallies in the first, third and fifth and was the second run to score in the sixth.
Hayli Green — who had knocked in 11 runs in three previous defeats of the Lancers — drove home four runs on two hits Tuesday. Rachel Anderson also had three hits, with two runs and two driven in.
"If they get going offensively, it's really hard to stop them," said East coach Natlie Peters. "I think our defense was good today, but it wasn't great. When you're playing Edwardsville you have to make the good plays and the exceptional plays. They did that defensively against us, we just weren't able to do it back."
Normal Community defeated East Moline, 2-1, in the other semifinal game Tuesday to advance to the championship game for the second year in a row. The Iron, 26-6, have plenty of recent history with Edwardsville.
The Tigers defeated Normal in the sectional championship game last year. But the Iron handed Edwardsville its first two losses of the season with a double-header sweep in early April.
"They're good," Blade said. "It's no different than when we play East — who's going to execute, who's going to hit. When we were up there (in April) we had some errors. We've got to clean that up a bit to compete with them."
The Lancers got six hits off Loveless Tuesday, including an RBI triple by senior Tawnee Kramer, a run-scoring single by freshman Alex Boze and a 2-for-4 day by Becca Dahm. Jessica Belzer and Brooke Laidley had the other hits.
Belleville East's season ends with a 24-13 record after it started with just one win in its first seven games. The Lancers were undefeated in Southwestern Conference play, apart from the two losses to the Tigers.
The Lancers lose seniors Emily Green, Kramer and Eversman.
"Our three seniors turned the tide of Belleville East softball," Peters said. "We won three regional championships in a row after a pretty long drought. They played underneath nine seniors last year and then stepped immediately into leadership roles. It helped us take a really young team to a better conference record than last year and more wins than anybody thought we could get."
Game at a Glance
PITCHING: Edwardsville senior Kallen Loveless (19-1) lasted seven, allowing six East hits and two earned runs in the sixth. She struck out four, hit one batter and walked none. For East, junior Angela Vanderpluym (14-8) went five innings, allowing eight Tiger runs on 11 hits. She struck out three and walked one. Junior Tori Lonsdale allowed two runs on two hits in one inning of relief for the Lancers.
TIGERS FIRST: Jordan Corby doubled deep off the left-field wall and scored on a single by Rachel Anderson. Loveless walked and both runners advanced on a wild pitch, leaving runners on second and third with one out. Annie Eversman made a nice catch against the fence in foul territory to retire Hayli Green, but with catcher Alex Boze also pursuing the ball, nobody was left to cover the plate and Anderson tagged and scored. EDWARDSVILLE 2, EAST 0
TIGERS THIRD: Corby led off with a line drive that skipped past the left fielder and rolled to the fence. She scored from second on a two-out double by Green. EDWARDSVILLE 3, EAST 0
TIGERS FIFTH: Corby started it off again with a one out single, then Anderson singled to right and Loveless reached on a fielder's choice. Corby scored on a wild pitch. Green picked up her third and fourth RBIs of the game with a single to left that scored Anderson and Loveless. Torrie Kruse doubled and scored on a pinch-hit double by Allison Loehr. Sara Radae then doubled home Loehr. EWARDSVILLE 8, EAST 0
LANCERS SIXTH: Jessica Belzer singled to left and scored on a triple by Tawnee Kramer. Boze followed with a single to score Kramer. EDWARDSVILLE 8, EAST 2
TIGER SIXTH: East reliever Torrie Lonsdale issued a leadoff walk to Ari Arnold and Corby singled. Anderson singled home Corby. With runners on second and third, Loveless ground out to score Corby. EDWARDSVILLE 10, EAST 2