Belleville East rallied three times to tie Southwestern Conference nemesis Edwardsville in high school softball Thursday.
Jordan Garella made sure there wasn’t a fourth time.
The Tigers’ senior struck out the last four Lancers batters she faced in relief of starter Jordyn Henricks and preserved an 8-6 Edwardsville victory.
“I told them on the last pitch that if we didn’t go crazy I was going to lose it,” Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said after the emotional win. “If you can’t get your heart rate up in those situations, I’m wasting my time.”
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Edwardsville (23-4, 11-1 in SWC) could clinch its fifth straight conference title next week with a win over either Granite City or Alton. Belleville East (23-5, 8-3) fell two games back.
Garella led the Tigers in innings pitched her junior season but was moved into a more muted role after struggling earlier this spring. A string of solid performances in April helped restore confidence in herself and the confidence of her coaches.
She’s been used as an effective contrast to Henricks, a harder throwing left-hander.
“I’m very comfortable bringing her back in that situation now,” Blade said. “It’s just taken us a little while to get her back to that point. She’s got a lot of confidence now, we’ve got confidence in her.”
There were plenty of would-be heroes for the Lancers including Jasmine Poore, Alyssa Krausz, and Alex Boze, who had game-tying hits in the second, fifth and sixth innings, respectively.
Edwardsville always found an answer, however, despite being out-hit by East 13-8.
The game was decided in the top of the seventh with one out and the score tied 6-6. The Tigers had runners on second and third when junior Taryn Brown hit a hard line drive back at East pitcher Kristina Bettis.
Bettis somehow made the catch at her belt and then threw a bullet to third base in an attempt to double off Sarah Hangsleben. The throw didn’t connect with third baseman Jessica Belzer, and the ball skipped into foul territory, allowing both runners to score.
“It doesn’t come down to just that play,” said East coach Natalie Peters. “Kristina is a great player, and I hate to see that be what’s talked about from this game. She was being aggressive and trying to get herself out of the inning. I’ll never fault that.”
Lancer errors in the first and sixth innings also led to Edwardsville runs. East also had three near home runs off the top of the fence.
“It’s a game of inches,” Peters said. “I don’t know if we got those inches, but I do know that our kids played their butts off, and I’m proud of the way they battled.”
Bettis pitched the full seven innings, allowing five earned runs on eight Edwardsville hits. She struck out two, walked two and hit three batters. She helped herself with two hits and an RBI.
Jackie and Jessica Belzer each had hits and scored a run; Boze had two hits including a double and two RBIs; and McKenzie Dalle had a key RBI single in the fourth inning.
Henricks allowed six runs on 12 East hits. She struck out one, walked none and hit two. She also had three hits, including a two-run double, and scored a run. Hangsleben and Brooke Webber each had RBI hits.