Prep Baseball & Softball

Miracle Maroons rally their way to softball sectionals

Belleville West junior Paige Cates gets a hug from senior teammate Kiri Evans after hitting an eighth-inning home run that gave the Maroons a regional championship win over Edwardsville Thursday. Izzy Holtrop and Aleigha Cory were part of the welcoming committee at home plate.
Belleville West junior Paige Cates gets a hug from senior teammate Kiri Evans after hitting an eighth-inning home run that gave the Maroons a regional championship win over Edwardsville Thursday. Izzy Holtrop and Aleigha Cory were part of the welcoming committee at home plate. teschman@bnd.com

The Miracle Maroons did it again.

Belleville West rallied for three runs with two out in the top of the seventh inning to tie, then got a solo home run from starting pitcher Paige Cates to complete a 6-5 win over top-seeded Edwardsville in the championship game of the O’Fallon Class 4A Softball Regional Friday.

It was the second day in a row the Maroons rallied with two outs in the seventh to keep their season alive. On Thursday, they scored five runs in a come-from-behind semifinal win over host O’Fallon.

“No one expected us to go this far,” said West coach Casey Garrett. “When you come in as the underdog, you just have to come in, play loose, play the best you can and hope it comes out in your favor. The last two days it has. What have you got to lose? Nothing.”

The regional softball championship is West’s first since 2007 under former coach Bob Yagge and the first for Garrett. It also broke Edwardsville’s streak of 11 consecutive regional championships.

The sixth-seeded Maroons (17-13) advance to the Normal West Sectional. Their semifinal game, however, will be played at Collinsville Jaycees Sports Complex against either No. 3 Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin or No. 2 Belleville East. That game will be played Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.

“I really wanted to win this game so bad and now that the seniors have their regional championship, I’m just that much more excited for the next round,” said senior outfielder Kiri Evans, who had two hits and scored two runs Friday.

West scored on in the top of the first with a lead-off triple by Evans and an RBI single by freshman shortstop Claire Marlen. But with a stiff wind blowing out to left field at O’Fallon High School’s new facility behind its Milburn School Road Campus, a one-run lead wasn’t going to last long.

Anna Burke put the Tigers on top with a two-run home run, which Sarah Hangsleben followed with a solo blast. A second-inning homer by West’s Allyson Winkelman was answered in the bottom half by Edwardsville catcher Taryn Brown.

Edwardsville picked up an unearned insurance run in the sixth inning to make the score 5-2 and set up West’s Thursday heros for a post-season curtain call.

Evans and Marlen singled with two outs in the seventh. Evans scored and Marlen went to third on a base hit by Alleigha Cory. Izzy Holtrop — who got the go-ahead hit in Thursday’s semifinal — then cleared the bases with a game-tying single.

Cates said she was looking for an outside pitch as she led off the eighth. She got one and sent it over the fence to right-center field.

“I knew he was calling the outside pitch, so I was adjusting to his zone and stay through the ball and get a line drive,” she said.

She then rerturned to the pitcher’s circle in the bottom of the inning to retire the Tigers in order and seal the emotional victory. Cates went the distance, allowing nine Edwardville hits while striking out three and walking just one.

“It was really high-intensity,” Cates said of protecting a one-run lead in the eighth. “My team supported me with the runs, though, so I figured I had to do my job and trust the defense behind me. I knew I could rely on my infield.”

Edwardsville starter Jordyn Henricks also pitched a full eight innings, allowing nine hits, striking out six and hitting one batter. Burke, a junior, went 4-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs.

The Tigers season ends at 28-5.

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