Through four innings, Freeburg ace Miranda Schulte seemed to be near her best against Centralia in Saturday’s Class 3A Centralia Sectional championship game.
In the bottom of the fifth inning of a scoreless game, the University of Iowa-bound senior began to show some cracks, although the host Orphan Annies failed to score.
And in the sixth, Centralia built on that breaking through with a pair of runs in what would be a 2-0 victory.
The loss ended an outstanding 28-2 season for the Midgets, who managed just two hits and three base runners in the game. Freeburg’s only other loss had come against Columbia (10-0) on April 20, some 17 games ago.
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“It’s hard to win a game, when you only have one or two hits,” said a tearful Schulte, who ended the season 26-2 on the mound and with career pitching mark of 82-17. “You have to have key hits and key plays.
“Our defense did fine, made the plays we needed. They just got the key hits when they needed them.”
The win advances Centralia (26-9) to the Mattoon super-sectional, where it will play Mount Zion at 4:30 p.m. Monday. Mount Zion (29-8) defeated Charleston 11-7 to win its own sectional.
Going into the fifth, a leadoff single by Raegan Brannon in the third inning had accounted for Centralia’s lone baserunner.
A walk and a single put the Annies’ first two runners aboard in the fifth. They moved to second on a sacrifice bunt.
But Schulte, who also allowed a handful of hard hit fouls balls in the inning, got out of trouble with a pop out and strike out.
However, she could not escape a sixth-inning jam.
Tess Timmons got it started with a one-out single and broke the tie when Schulte’s mound counterpart, Chloe Wendling, followed with a double.
“I was just waiting for any pitch around the zone to capitalize on,” Wendling said. “And she threw me an inside pitch I was able to turn on it. It fell in, and I was able to get a runner in.”
Wendling scored on a two-out single by Brylee Dukes.
A senior, Wendling added that her team’s confidence at the plate grew as the game progressed.
“We knew once we started making contact, that eventually we would start finding holes,” she said. “And that just builds a great atmosphere for us and we were able to capitalize on it.”
Freeburg’s best scoring opportunity against the Saint Louis University-bound Wendling had come in the top of the fifth, when Madison Schanuel singled with one out. A sacrifice bunt moved courtesy runner Jessica Poirot to second.
The next batter, Elly Fisher, hit a ground ball that was muffed by Centralia second baseman Chelsea Ashlock.
But the sophomore stuck with the play, came up with ball and retired a sliding Poirot with a strong throw home.
The final six Freeburg batters were retired in order by Wendling, who crafted a two-hitter that featured five strikeouts and no walks.
“Second-time through, she really had started adding more of that changeup, and that was kind of the deal-breaker,” Midgets assistant coach Becky Mueth said. “We just could not get anything going, and when we did, we could not get back-to-back hits.
“And in their inning they were able to get back-to-back hits.”
Mueth was in charge of the Midgets in place of head coach Ben Howes, who was out of the country to attend his son’s wedding.
Howes has already announced he will not be coaching Freeburg’s softball team in 2019.
The Midgets had scored at least four runs or more in nine of their 10 previous games. They had also allowed one run or less in five of their last seven.
“Hats off to Centralia; they’re really a great team,” Mueth said. “They’ve really come out of the gate here at the end of season. They knocked off Columbia. They knocked off us.
“It kind of proves anything can happen at any time.”