A pair of middle-seeded softball teams that think they can make some noise in the postseason met in the final week of the Southwestern Conference season Tuesday.
It was a fifth-inning RBI single by Belleville West senior Izzy Holtrop that lifted the Maroons past upstart O’Fallon 4-3.
West (13-12), seeded sixth in the Class 4A Normal West Sectional, and fourth-seeded O’Fallon (18-12) will meet again next Wednesday in the regional semifinals.
“I think we are both really good programs that have steadily made progress throughout the season,” said O’Fallon first-year coach Lauren Muniz. “It’ll be good competition when we go head-to-head against next week. Beyond that, whoever comes out of it can do well in the regional.”
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O’Fallon, which had three freshmen among its starting nine, entered Tuesday having won five games in a row and 10 of its last 12.
But the Maroons have mounted a similar streak behind the pitching of junior Paige Cates, who has allowed just six earned runs in her last 43 innings. West has won four in a row with three games remaining this week.
“We go in waves and right now we’re on the top of it,” said West coach Casey Garrett. “It’s going to be a tough regional, but when we’re playing good I feel like we can beat everybody.”
Cates dominated the Panthers for six innings Tuesday. Her only hiccup came in the fourth.
West had scored an unearned run in the third, then took a 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth off home runs by Aleigha Cory and Alyssa James.
Cates walked the first two batters in the Panthers’ half and freshman catcher Kelly Short tied it with a fly ball that caught the jet stream blowing out to left-center field. Her home run was O’Fallon’s first hit off Cates, yet it tied the score.
“You can’t walk people like that back-to-back and not expect a good-hitting team like that not get the big hit,” Cates said. “It’s a learning experience, but it’s easy to shake off when your hitters are going like they were today.”
The Maroons got the lead back on the Holtrop single to score Abby Gibson. Cates, meanwhile, allowed just two baserunners the rest of the way. She allowed three hits while striking out nine and walking three.
“That’s the way Paige is. When she is mentally and physically in it, she does a great job,” Garrett said. “She was on today.”
O’Fallon junior starter Katie Moore allowed two earned runs on six hits while striking out two through 3 2/3 innings. Freshman Hayleigh Juenger took the loss in relief, allowing two hits and one unearned run.
She got the support of Jordan DeRemer, who made two outstanding plays to rob West batters of hits, and senior right fielder Nikole Patterson, who made a running shoestring catch to take a hit and an RBI away from Maroons’ senior Kiri Evans in the sixth.